The title was by no means a given.
The Tahoe Grizzlies Bantam youth hockey team showed up at the California Championships as the underdogs to say the least. Back in August, the boys barely pulled together enough players to fill out the roster. It was worth the effort. They are now ranked first overall after winning the California State title at Sharks Ice in San Jose, Calif., on Sunday.
The win marks the first state title ever won by a team from Lake Tahoe. In fact, a hockey team from Tahoe has only made the trip to state once before.
But the title, the season and Tahoe’s new hockey lore almost never existed.
The Tahoe Grizzlies, a 13 to 15-year-old Bantam team in the South Tahoe Amateur Hockey Association, originally couldn’t find enough players to enter a team in NorCal travel hockey. Parents started recruiting.
Reminiscent of Disney’s original Mighty Ducks, the parents recruited players from Carson City, Reno, Incline Village, Stockton, Valley Springs, Roseville, and Rocklin. They were just trying to save the season, but turns out they put together a winning combination.
They added one last piece to the puzzle, a coach named Ken Wood. Wood assembled a top-notch assistant coaching team — Robert Wood, Gerry Jensen, Chris Audi and Larry Low.
“These boys came through when it really mattered in the championship game,” Wood said. “They were down two players in the second period and the boys stuck to our game plan. They stepped up their tempo and took it to our opponent for the victory. Like we have done all season through injuries, suspensions and a short bench this Tahoe Grizzlies team played as a team and we won as a team.”
The state championships started on Friday when the Grizzlies faced the San Diego Jr. Gulls. The Grizzlies were ready and quickly discovered they could compete at the state level. They handily won the game 7-1.
Later that same day, they faced their Northern California nemesis, the Fresno Junior Monsters. The Jr. Monsters had beaten the Grizzlies in the Northern California playoffs only two weeks earlier. Friday night was a hard fought game, but Fresno edged Tahoe 3-2.
With this win Fresno qualified to play in the final championship game. It also meant that the Grizzlies had to win on Saturday to make it to the final. They would face the California Heat, from Los Angeles, Calif. Saturday’s game was a battle. The Heat were hungry, but so were the Grizzlies. The game was back-and-forth, knotted 3-3 in the middle of the third period. With two and a half minutes left the Grizzlies scored to take the lead and cement a 4-3 win. They would face the Jr. Monsters in the championship game.
Both teams knew there was a state title at stake Sunday. Both teams came out hitting.
The Jr. Monsters scored first, but the Grizzlies quickly tied it up.
There were some big hits early in the game, and one of the Grizzlies was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct. The Jr. Monsters capitalized on the power play and scored four minutes into the penalty.
The Grizzlies responded with a power play goal of their own to once again tie it at 2-2. The Grizzlies scored again to take the lead in the middle of the second. Then one of the Fresno players hit one of the Grizzlies from behind, and the Grizzly player was knocked unconscious. There was no penalty called on the play, however, the game was delayed for about 30 minutes.
The Grizzlies were now determined to win for themselves, their ejected teammate and the one on his way to the hospital. When play resumed with one minute left in the second period the Grizzlies were on the attack. They scored with one second left in the second period to take a 4-2 lead.
The Jr. Monsters did not give up, but at this point the Grizzlies were on a tear. In the third period they scored two unanswered goals and ended up winning 6 – 2.