On Sunday, January 21 at 3:10 p.m., the Desert Vista High School Division III hockey team will begin the journey of attempting to capture a second straight state championship.
The boys-and-girls team finished the 2017-2018 regular season as the top seed in Division III with a record of 15 wins, two losses and three ties. It scored 96 total goals during the season while allowing only 36, five fewer than the No. 2-seeded Pinnacle Pioneers, who allowed 41 and scored 76.
The Thunder returned almost half their roster from last season, including goaltender Macy Eide, who finished her 2017-2018 regular season with the best goal against average in Division III.
Senior assistant captain Jake Smith, who finished fifth in goals in 2017-2018, also returned for this season.
But, while Macy and her teammates are confident heading into the playoffs, they don’t want to get too confident.
“We’re not taking any of the other teams lightly because we lost to the other two top teams that are below us so we can’t take them for granted whatsoever,” she said.
One loss came against Notre Dame Prep in the championship game of the Labor Day Tournament, where the team fell to the Saints in the final minute.
The Thunder rebounded, however, in the regular season. It first took down Notre Dame 5-3 on Sept. 16. Then, to capture the No. 1 seed in Division III, the Thunder beat the Saints once again, by a score of 6-1.
The Thunder boast some of the best team statistics in the league, with their total goals for and goals against while also holding the largest scoring differential in the league with the next highest team 25 goals below them.
The Thunder has no league leader in goals, assists or points, but one thing that they believe they have going for them is their team camaraderie.
“This is a team game and this team, very early on, came together as a team and really gelled and played well as a team,” head coach Randy Smith said. “That is the focus of this team. To play hard and play as a team. That’s probably the most important thing, you can’t win on individual effort.”
The team has bonded off the ice just as much as they have bonded on it, contributing to a successful season and a No. 1 seed. Their Arizona State University commit goaltender said they have a family type of bond.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had such a good defense but I have never had such good scorers that leave it all at the net and just pepper it as much as they can,” Eide said. “It’s always either I am getting help from my forwards, who are playing defense if the defenders are in the corner, or like a forward protecting me in front of the net. So, it’s like that family type bond that we play for each other on the ice.”
The work of the regular season grind is over, but as the top team whose expectation is to capture the second Division III state championship in school history, the Thunder still have work to do.
“I think we have had a great season,” Smith said. “We have a really great group of players that have come together and played really well, and they have had some success so we are happy about that. But, we aren’t done yet. The important work is ahead of us. We have three more games to win.”
As the No. 1 seed, Desert Vista received a bye in the first round and will play the winner of one of the two play in games that will be played on Jan. 20, one day before its quarterfinal matchup.
-Reach AFN Sports Editor Greg Macafee at firstname.lastname@example.org. or 585-610-2344. Follow Greg on Twitter @greg_macafee and the Sports Department at @TMG__sports