Photo by Caleb Motsinger
Players and coaches from the Alton Redbirds hockey team prior to leaving Alton High Tuesday for Omaha, Neb.
The Alton Redbird hockey team was in for a long journey Tuesday after taking off on a charter bus bound for Omaha, Neb.
Arriving late that night, the Redbirds were thrust into USA Hockey’s national high school championships that evening against Lake Central, Ind. But with an undefeated regular season record and a bit of a chance to redeem themselves after losing out to Edwardsville in last month’s playoffs, Alton came ready to play despite the natural lag a group of teenagers may feel after leaving after school for a seven-hour drive north.
“It’s a long trip down but these guys are ready,” Alton head coach Larry Thatcher said. “They’re competitors, and high-pressure game situations like this are the boys’ specialty.”
Alton advanced to the national tournament as runner-up in the Missouri/Illinois qualifier. Despite losing their first game of the tournament 4-3, the Redbirds had no problem playing on a national stage. After the Redbirds rallied for a 3-3 tie after two periods, Lake Central scored the only goal of the third to run away with a 4-3 victory.
Though Alton outshot Lake Central 33-26 Wednesday, they just couldn’t get the puck into the net in the third period. But the Indians could, however, and goals by Alton’s Tommy Byrd, Allan Bower and Austin Rauscher just weren’t enough to give the team its first win of the playoffs.
“We lost to an excellent hockey team but in order to move on, we need to focus on playing as a team in every period,” Thatcher said.
The 32-team tournament runs Wednesday through Sunday at Ralston Arena in Omaha. The squads are divided into eight four-team pools, with the winners of each advancing to Saturday's quarterfinals. The semifinals then will be at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, with the championship game at 9 a.m. Sunday.
Alton will face North Royalton, Ohio, Thursday at 1 p.m., with their third game scheduled at 11 a.m. Friday against Stoneman Douglas, Fla.