FORT WAYNE – Its an interesting thing to see the Squirt A Komets travel hockey team in the handshake line after games, often games they have won.
When we line up with teams to shake hands, you can see the considerable height advantage that our opponents have, said Mike Robison, the teams coach.
The Squirt A Komets are stocked with 8-to-10-year-old players, and not many of their opponents have any as young as 8. And the only players on the Squirt A Komets who are 10 are goaltenders.
So this team has had to play beyond its years, and it has.
It won the Regional Silver Sticks Tournament at the Luthern Health SportsCenter in November and was the only local team to advance to the International Tournament, Jan. 10-13 in Ontario.
Its probably the largest tournament these kids will have experienced, Robison said. There will be regional champions from the U.S. and Canada. And there is large ceremony where they bring all the teams together to show them just how big this accomplishment is.
At the regional, the Squirt A Komets defeated the Cleveland Sharks 3-1, lost to Columbus CCYHA 2-1 and then defeated Cleveland Hockey 3-1.
In the finals, the Komets got some revenge against Columbus with a 3-1 victory.
We proved we deserved to go to the (International Tournament) cause we have the best players from Squirt A in our region, 9-year-old Luke Robertson said. In that game in the finals, we got the puck out of our zone and kept it off the blue line a lot.
Added Robison: We didnt think wed played as well as we could when we lost to them, then we pretty much dominated (Columbus) in the finals.
The players and their families are excited for the opportunity to go to the International Tournament and even visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, though its been a financial hardship for some because going to the tournament wasnt in the budget.
While the competition will be tough, the Squirt A Komets are used to being the underdogs. In the Buckeye Travel League, with teams from around the Midwest, they are probably the youngest team.
Theyve made up for it with good preparation – when the players were at the mite level, they played games the full length of the ice by circumventing local rules and skating outside their region – and theyve made sure to focus on the fundamentals and play as a team.
What weve worked on with the kids, because it is fundamentals at this age, is skating, passing and shooting, Robison said. We want them to recognize where their teammates are and to have their heads up and reading, reacting to the play. We want the kids to get their heads up and see the pressure and know what kind of passing options they have.
Robertson added that the coaches always stress the importance of playing as a cohesive unit and, he said, We always work on getting it out of our zone.
The Squirt A Komets are guaranteed four games at the International Tournament on Jan. 10 and 11, though their opponents and the sites of those games (likely Pelham and St. Catharines) havent been determined.
Another team from Fort Wayne, the Squirt AA Komets, was the runner-up at the Fort Wayne regional and will participate in another tournament in Sarnia, Ontario.
Were all excited to be going on to Canada, Robertson said.