The Tri-Valley Blue Devils Midget 18AA team is on a high after taking home the USA Hockey Tier II Pacific District Championship in Valencia, Calif. last weekend.
The team, which is made up of 17- and 18-year-olds from across the Tri-Valley, is now preparing for the national tournament April 1-5 in Pittsburgh, Pa. It will be facing the champions of the Central and Atlantic districts and Minnesota.
The Blue Devils began their exciting playoff run by winning the state championship two weeks ago. They then moved on to the Pacific District Championship last weekend. During the four-day event, the Blue Devils defeated the Alaska Jr. Avalanche, Seattle Jr. Thunderbirds, California Heat and Alaska Wolves before winning the crown with a convincing 4-0 victory over the Northwest Admirals, according to Rich Wilcox. They completed the tournament with three shutouts while outscoring their opponents 19-5.
Skating at the Iceland skating rink in Dublin, the team includes six Pleasanton residents: Brad Bates, Jim Heppner and Neil Schumaker, Foothill High School, Shane Houston, San Jose State University, Kevin Wilcox, Las Positas College, and Chris Wolfinger, Amador Valley High School.
Paul Bates, whose son is player Brad Bates, said he is elated that the team will soon be going to Pennsylvania.
"It's an incredible run," Bates said.
The team's accomplishments are all the more amazing because California is a non-traditional hockey market as opposed to cold weather states in the Midwest and East Coast, Bates said.
"Many of these families have really been faithful to the game," he said. "We've lost so many kids to other sports. Now, they're starting to see the fruits of their labor."
Bates said his son and fellow players Wilcox, Heppner and Wolfinger got into ice hockey after playing roller hockey at Pleasanton Middle School. It's been a challenge for hockey players to find ice time because there is a shortage of rinks in Northern California, Bates said, which is why he supports the proposed four-rink ice complex planned for Staples Ranch.
The ice rink, to be built and operated by a subsidiary of the San Jose Sharks, is part of an overall plan for Staples that was approved by the City Council last month.
"We really needed the Sharks Ice facility 10 years ago," Bates said.