BUILDING: Hockey Program Thriving on National Stage in Third Year
By Matt Baide
Three years ago, the Puget Sound Sharks rink hockey team was just getting started and last week, they were playing in the 14U National Championship game.
Practicing out of the Centralia Rollerdrome, the Sharks traveled to Lincoln, Neb., last week and finished second in the Rink Hockey National Championships.
“When I first started, I didn’t think we’d be going to a national championship because when I started, kids really had no experience. They weren’t even close to ready to be here and they’ve advanced so much in two years,” Puget Sound Sharks coach Ryan Carney said. “It’s crazy, it’s absolutely 100 percent crazy. These kids are really doing something that I don’t think has happened ever. It was a total new ballgame as far as the learning the game and picking up the game so quickly, I’ve never seen it.”
The Sharks qualified for the tournament by finishing in the top 3 in the Northwest Region, earning them an invite to the national championships.
The team started off the tournament with a 3-2 loss to the Washington Warriors last Monday, the defending national champions out of Olympia. Carney thought his team was a bit in awe of the situation the team found themselves in at first.
“It’s always an awe factor. Every time you step up there, there’s people there watching you, different people you don’t know,” Carney said. “As far as my team goes though, I really do think there was an awe factor though. I do think they calmed down quite a bit because they played a team they were familiar with, that’s a majority of it.”
The Sharks rebounded with a 2-1 win over the team out of Anchorage last Tuesday, and followed that up on the same day with a 2-2 tie against a team out of Cumberland, Md.
Puget Sound picked up another win on Wednesday, defeating Decatur, Texas, 7-2. The win put the team into the semifinals against Cumberland.
It was one of the toughest games of Carney’s coaching career, but the Sharks were able to prevail, 5-4, in a shootout.
“That was probably the highest high, that was the most excited I’ve ever been. We knew we were going to the championship at that point,” Carney said. “We were all high-fiving and hugging, that was the highest high in my coaching career so far is that game right there, I thought there’s no way I’m taking a team to the championship right now.”
Puget Sound came head-to-head with the Warriors once again, and lost 6-2 in the title game. The Warriors took a 3-0 lead into halftime and the Sharks could never recover, although Carney was pleased with his team’s performance in the title game.
“We played with them a good solid 15 minutes of the first half, and then we played with them about the last five. We had a little hiccup in that last game where it just didn’t go our way,” Carney said. “We definitely had enough opportunities and shots and shots on cage throughout the whole game to beat them, none of them went in. It was just one of those days.”
Carney’s former coach, Shane Enlow, coaches the Warriors. It was weird at first to coach against his former coach, but now the two play together and coaching against Enlow is just another game now.
“We play on the same team now, we talk about it a lot. We face each other all year, it’s kind of like just another day,” Carney said. “It’s not so weird here but sometimes at home, the first couple times coaching against him was kind of weird, but now it’s like an everyday thing. It’s just another day at the rink, I’m pretty used to coaching against him.”
Reflecting on where the Sharks started, it’s quite an accomplishment for them to be finishing second in the national championships.
“I’m grateful that we got to even experience that right there, happy to work that hard. After it’s all said and done, everything that happened this week has done nothing but wanting all my players to want to get better,” Carney said. “That’s what this is all about, wanting to win and wanting to get better. I’m just so happy that they took all this away from it.”
In the Sharks first season, they didn’t win a game. Coach Ryan Carney took the program over in the second year, and the team started winning some games.
“They have that determination. That’s where the stick to it and determination comes from is losing and losing. The determination to want to win, to make it a winning program, they want that on their chest, they want it written on them, they want the target bad,” Carney said. “That’s what got them to where they are, hard work and never giving up. We instilled the mindset with every one of the boys is never giving up and trying their best, each and every one of them does that, and the girls that play too as well. They all try really hard, never give up.”
Carney saw the potential the team had in his first year at the helm of the program, and playing against great competition throughout the Northwest, along with a lot of practice, helped develop the Shark’s skills into where they are today.
“Olympia is the defending national champion, we play them every season. We practice against them in practice, we’re always trying to give them good drills and a good solid practice and they’re always playing against the better team which forces them to get better quick,” Carney said.
Not only were the players on board with the program, the parents were also determined to help make the Sharks a successful program.
“I think I always wanted to and we talked about it last year and it seemed like the parents were on board but this year, you could tell it was going to happen,” Carney said. “From the start, everyone was just on me, ‘How are we going to do this? What can we do to get there?”
Also contributing to the Sharks’ success is the team chemistry. The team not only hangs out at the rink, but spends a lot of time together outside of the rink.
“They’re all best friends, they show up to the rink together. I always hear them at practice, ‘Hey you guys want to hang out tonight?’ and are always hanging out on the weekends,” Carney said. “They’re always hanging out, all of them stayed together at the tournament. They’re always riding scooters down to the skate park and are all really good friends.”
The team will have a couple months off before starting up next season in October. But Carney believes some of his team will be in the rink shortly after the team gets back from Nebraska.
“Probably get back and relax for a couple weeks. I’m sure the boys are going to get right back in the rink and we’ll probably get right back in the rink in the next couple months, just get right back into it and preparing for next year,” Carney said.
For those with young athletes looking to try a new sport, the Puget Sound Sharks are open to welcoming all players from ages 6-16. For more information or how to join the program, visit the Centralia Rollerdrome.
“I don’t think many people play this sport, it’s totally something different,” Carney said. “I recommend it to someone who wants to try something different, something they’ve never seen before.”
Photos courtesy of Jade Gross