The Esmark Stars U16 AAA team, proud members of the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL), are in Philadelphia, PA this weekend, April 5 - 10, 2018, for the USA Hockey Tier I National Championships.
The Stars, who captured the Mid-American District (Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania) Championship in Pittsburgh, March 9 - 11, will play three round-robin games in preliminary pool play.
The winners of each of USA Hockey's 12 Districts, plus four wild-card teams selected by USA Hockey, will vie for the right to call themselves "National Champions" over a grueling six days of competition.
First up, on Thursday, April 5, 12:45 p.m., will be the Boston Jr. Eagles out of Boston, MA. The Eagles, who are a member of the Eastern Hockey Federation (EHF) Elite Division, finished the season ranked 8th in the nation according to the website (www.myhockeyrankings.com) with a record of 29-4-0-0.
The Stars return to the ice on Friday, April 6, 12:45 p.m., against the Anaheim Jr. Ducks out of Boston, MA. The Ducks, who are a member of the Tier One Elite Hockey League (TOEHL), finished the season ranked 5th in the nation with a record of 45-3-0-5.
Esmark wraps up round-robin play in the 16 team field against the Chicago Young Americans out of Chicago, IL, on Saturday, April 7, at 10:45 a.m. CYA, who plays in the High Performance Hockey League (HPHL), finished the season ranked 10th in the nation with a record of 41-19-3-5.
"The boys fought hard to get to Nationals," said Stars U16 head coach Yuri Krivokhija. "We finished second in our league (NAPHL) regular season standings and then won the Mid-Am District Tournament. Hopefully we are peaking at the right time."
The Stars, who wrapped up the regular season with a 38-20-3-2 overall record, 16-4-0-1 NAPHL league record, join fellow NAPHL members Sioux Falls Jr. Stampede and Washington Little Capitals in the U16 field
"With a draw like this, the guys have a tough mountain to climb," offered Stars general manager Dave Kosick. "But I believe the coaching staff has the team ready to meet the challenge."
Following round-robin play, the top two teams in each of the tournaments four divisions of play will advance to the quarter-finals, to be held on Sunday, April 8. Winners of the quarter-finals will hook-up in the semi-finals on Monday, April 9. And the two semi-final winners will meet on Tuesday, April 10, to crown a National 16U Tier I Champion.
This is the second Krivokhija-lead Stars team to advance to the Tier I National Championships. Ten years ago, the 2007-08 Stars advanced to the Nationals as Mid-Am District Champions and completed round robin play undefeated and advanced to the quarter-finals as the number one seed for their six-team bracket, in what was then a 12- team tournament. The Stars quest for a National Championship that year was upended in the quarter-finals by the Colorado Thunderbirds.
All games in the 2017-18 USA Hockey U16 and U18 Tier I National Championships are being played at the Ice Line Quad Rinks in West Chester, PA.