The Ice Hawks brought home the Michigan Athletic Hockey Association Pee Wee B state title by defeating St. Ignace 8-1 in the state finals on March 23 in Midland. Team members include, in front, goalie Evan Hedtke, from left, second row, Nathan Thomson, Kali Dennis, Bink Cline, Nolan Anderson, Lexi Dominici and Nicole Polzin; third row, Noah Thomson, Greg Ghiotto, Holden Ross, Trey Bociek and Drew Hebert; fourth row, assistant coach Mark Dennis, head coach Mike Hedtke and assistant coach Jim Anderson. (submitted photo)
IRON RIVER— From the ashes of a humbling start, the future two-time state championship youth hockey team soared.
When the oldest members of the current Ice Hawks Pee Wee squad first took the ice six years ago, the results were forgettable, to say the least. Playing at the Mite level for players age 8 and under, the team got shellacked in its first two games to the tune of 37-1.
Fast forward to 2014 and the results could hardly be more different.
The Ice Hawks captured their second Michigan Athletic Hockey Association state title in three years when they rolled over St. Ignace 8-1 in the Pee Wee B state finals in Midland on March 23.
Head coach Mike Hedtke recalled the early days of his eventual state champions with a chuckle.
“They’ve come a long way since then,” he said.
The team’s first state title came in 2012 in the Squirt Division (ages 9 and 10). The second championship squad is comprised of 12 players, all from Iron County.
Only Hedtke and his goaltender son Evan are from the east side of Iron County.
Understandably, that first taste of a state championship still lingers with the players and coaches.
“I remember our coach coming up and hugging us so tight we couldn’t even breathe,” said Trey Bociek, a 13-year-old sixth-grader who plays center, wing and defense.
This time around, the Ice Hawks entered the tournament held at the Midland Civic Arena as a confident, experienced group. They had put together a sterling season prior to the finals with 33 wins in 45 games and knew what it took to win the five more necessary to skate past the field again.
So it was a surprise to both the coaching staff and the players when in the first game of pool play on Friday night, the Ice Hawks found themselves down 4-2 heading into the third period,.
But the team quickly reasserted itself with three goals from Bociek and another from Nathan Thomson to pull away for a 6-4 triumph.
Most of the team arrived in Midland on Thursday afternoon and had to wait until Friday at 7:30 to take the ice. So a day wandering around the mall and hanging out may have taken some of the edge off the team, Hedtke said.
“Being kids, it’s hard to coop them up and not have them running around,” Hedtke said. “So we came out flat. I told the kids to keep playing hard and you’re going to wear the team down because they only had seven skaters.
“And that’s basically what happened.”
From there, the Ice Hawks dominated. Bociek and Holden Ross recorded three goals each in a 6-0 whitewash of Westland in the first game on Saturday.
Next was a 12-2 thrashing of Midland on goals by Bociek (four), Thomson (three), Noah Thomson (three), Greg Ghiotto (one) and Nolan Anderson (one).
Ghiotto, a defenseman, said he’s improved since the first title two years ago.
“I’m better at skating now,” he said.
That put the Ice Hawks in the semifinals, which began on Sunday morning. It was more of the same as the eventual state champs knocked off Mt. Pleasant 7-1 behind three goals from Nathan Thomson, two from Bociek and one each from Noah Thomson and Ghiotto.
And in the finals, the Ice Hawks skated past St. Ignace again, this time by a 7-1 count. Lexi Dominici added her first goal of the tournament to go with Bociek’s four and one each from Anderson and Ross.
“It was different winning (this time) because I scored a goal in the last game,” Dominici said.
Drew Hebert added four assists in the tournament, while Bink Cline recorded one. Nicole Polzin and Kali Dennis also played forward in the winning effort.
Evan Hedtke surrendered just eight goals in the five games (1.6 per game). The 12-year-old sixth-grader said he really didn’t set out to play between the pipes.
“Nobody else would do it,” he said.
Mike Hedtke credit his players’ athleticism, work ethic and desire for the success. By season’s end, the team finished with a 38-10-2 record.
Nine of the 10 losses were to teams from higher divisions, Hedtke said.
The team’s attitude and discipline made impressions on opposing coaches and referees during the year.
“One of the refs at the district said, ‘You have a nice team, but the best part of it is they aren’t showboats. When I called a penalty on your team they didn’t pound the stick, they just skated over to the (penalty box).’”
“I demand that from them,” said Hedtke, an Oconto Falls (Wis.) native who moved to Crystal Falls from Kenosha nine years ago. “Obviously, I want them to win, but that’s my main goal. Sports is a microcosm of life.”
Likewise, big success comes from big contributions, not only from players and coaches but from families, as well. Youth hockey is an activity that demands effort from all involved.
“In our association, everything is volunteer,” Hedtke said. “The only person that gets paid is the ref. Parents are down there making sure lockers are open and clean, the lights are on, the ice is ready. Skates have to be sharpened, the concessions have to be set up and the Zamboni has to be run.
“So it’s a lot of stuff that’s done behind the scenes that people don’t see.”
Add to that the expenses involved. Hedtke estimated that families spent close to $10,000 on the Midland trip for hotels and traveling expenses.
All that sacrifice and effort help explain the transformation of a team that has reversed its fortunes from its inauspicious beginning.
And the tangible difference shone starkly from the scoreboard. The final goal count from the state tournament was 39-8.