Unlike the Tier 2 Teams where the State Champions go straight to Nationals, the Regional is used because of the small number of teams of each state (or none at all in some states like Oklahoma & New Mexico) to use to determine who will play at Nationals. After seeing the action of the Texas Amateur Hockey Association (TAHA) back earlier this month, I feel that Texas should have had only one team at Regional because of the great disparity of the Stars Elites & Alliance Bulldogs over the last couple of years.
For instance, in addition to the U12, U16 & U18 Tier 1 Teams getting sweeped by the Stars Elites at the State Tournament; the Alliance Bulldogs U14 Tier 2 Team made it the Final only to get crushed by the Ice Jets as well. So that tells you the decline of the Alliance Bulldogs Program in recent years (But that's another story for another day).
The U18's are coming off a very strong season in the Tier 1 Elite League where they went 27-8-5 where they ran away with the Pacific Division Title winning by 16 points over the LA Jr. Kings & finished in a tie for 2nd Place with the Chicago Fury with 59 points. Even in the Tier 1 Elite League Season Finale when the Stars Elites played Victory Honda, they were leading 2-0 at the end of 2 periods before 3 unanswered goals for Victory Honda helped them win 3-2 in a 3rd period comeback. If you include all their games, they finished the regular season 32-8-5 where most recently, the Stars Elites went 3-1 during their final Tier 1 Elite League Showcase of the season in the Detroit Area with wins over the Cleveland Barons, Oakland Grizzlies & Belle Tire over the course of the Showcase.
Coming up this we as they have been drawn with the Alliance Bulldogs again during the Regional Tournament Group Stage, they will also play the Pikes Peak Miners which compete in the North American Prospects Hockey League & finished finished 3rd in the Colorado Tier 1 League behind power houses Colorado Rampage & Colorado Thunderbirds, as well as the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes who in 4 games this season, the Stars Elites went 3-0-1 during the Tier 1 Elite League Season.
It was a series where all 4 games were close including in the first head-to-head matchup of the season on October 10 where despite not trailing for the entire game, the Jr. Coyotes were able to get the game tied on every occasion to earn a 4-4 draw. Also back in the December, the Stars Elites had to comeback from a 3-2 deficit when Brad Ferguson started a 3rd period surge where the Special Teams shined big time by scoring twice in the final 7 minutes of the game. Ferguson tied the game with 6:48 left in the 3rd period to tie it at 3-3. He also scored a an empty netter in the final seconds to win 5-3. William Clark also scored the game winner with just under a minute left to eventually put the game out-of-hand for the Jr. Coyotes
These close games should provide the team with a big confidence booster to play them in the upcoming Regional. But the team shouldn't take them lightly knowing how they have challenged them over the course of the season. They should be seen at least as a slight favorite to possibly win the group. Despite the Pikes Peak Miners finishing 3rd in Colorado, the strong Crop of Tier 1 Talent in Colorado as well as the improving North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) should prepare them well for this tournament.
Alliance will be looked as a major underdog this year after losing 4 of 5 games overall this year against the Stars Elites. As well as struggling in events like their 2 High Performance Hockey League (HPHL) Events this year in early December & Mid-January where they lost every game in those Showcases. Including getting wipped by Honeybaked 10-0 on January 15th & a 6-3 loss to the Ice Jets back on December 3rd where in a game that got away from them after the Bulldogs had the game tied at 3-3 at one point only to lose 6-3.
Other low lights of the season came back in Mid-December where during a trip to Colorado in a game against the Colorado Rampage where a 5 goal 3rd period end any hopes of upset against one of Colorado's Best Teams at the Tier 1 Level. They went on to go winless that weekend which also included a 9-1 loss against the Pikes Peak Miners & a 5-1 loss to the Colorado Rampage that weekend.
Also closer to home, saw the team tie the Dallas Oilers U18 AA Team 3-3 the weekend before the State Tournament. Even though this is part weakness' of the Alliance Bulldogs & part of the growing strength the Dallas Oilers are having in winning the U18 Tier 2 State Championship. No matter how strong a AA Team is, the AAA Team, especially a Tier 1 Team, should be a sizeable favorite no matter how good a team because of the amount of practice & Game Time differences have in the two levels. By pulling a tie against the Alliance Bulldogs AA, this should set them up well for a possible strong U18 Tier 2 Tournament Run in Michigan that starts up a month from today
In all, the U18 Tier 1 Tournament will have 8 teams divided into 2 groups of 4. Group A will feature the Colorado Powers in the Colorado Thunderbirds & Colorado Rampage as well as the Phoenix Firebirds & the Utah Regulators. While Group B will feature the Dallas Stars Elites & Alliance Bulldogs along with the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes & Pikes Peak Miners. Each team will play once per day during the Group Stage on Thursday, Friday & early on Saturday.
The Semifinals will take place on Saturday Night with the winners playing each other for the Regional Championship Game Sunday Afternoon. The winner will move on the National Championships in Buffalo, N.Y. from March 28 through April 1 in Buffalo, N.Y. Last year, both the Stars Elites & Alliance Bulldogs advanced to the Semifinals and even were matched up against each other where the Stars Elites defeated the Alliance Bulldogs 3-2 in the Semifinals only to roughed up in the Final where they lost to the Colorado Thunderbirds 7-2 for the Regional Championship when the Tournament was in Dallas.
With Nationals on the line, expect everybody to be putting everyone on the line as a spot in Nationals is on the line and everyone else bascially planning to wrap up their season after this weekend. One of the few execptions to this rule is the Dallas Stars Elites heading up Fairbault, Minnesota to play Shattuck St. Marys the weekend of 3/17-18 that will be used as a National Championship Tune up.
If they don't quailify, they will still play but it will be looking to end the season on a high and it will have a very different tune for the Stars Elites as Shattuck will be playing their final games before the National Championship with the Stars Elites as a team will have nothing to play for.
For Alliance, any kind of big victory would be a huge achomplishment after the down season the team has had this year as they will be viewed as one of the weakeast teams in this year's Rocky Mountain Regional Tournament. Especially with them being paired in the same group as the Stars Elites after losing 4-of-5 this season. It's most likely going to be a long weekend for the Bulldogs this weekend.
Here's the Full U18 Tier 1 Regional Championship Schedule in Denver, Colorado
Group A: Colorado Rampage, Colorado Thunderbirds, Phoenix Firebirds, Utah Regulators
Group B: Alliance Bulldogs, Dallas Stars Elites, Phoenix Jr. Coyotes, Pikes Peak Miners
Colorado Rampage VS. Phoenix Firebirds 5:45 PM
Utah Regulators VS. Colorado Thunderbirds 6:00 PM
Dallas Stars Elites VS. Phoenix Jr. Cyotes 8:00 PM
Alliance Bulldogs VS. Pikes Peak Miners 8:15 PM
Colorado Rampage VS. Colorado Thunderbirds 5:45 PM
Utah Regulators VS. Phoenix Firebirds 6:00 PM
Dallas Stars Elites VS. Pikes Peak Miners 8:00 PM
Phoenix Jr. Coyotes VS. Alliance Bulldogs 8:15 PM
Colorado Rampage VS. Utah Regulators 12:30 PM
Phoenix Firebirds VS. Colorado Thunderbirds 12:45 PM
Dallas Stars Elites VS. Alliance Bulldogs 2:45 PM
Phoenix Jr. Coyotes VS. Pikes Peak Miners 3:00 PM
SF #1: 1A VS. 2B 9:15 PM
SF #2: 1B VS. 2A 9:30 PM
Final: SF Winners 1:30 PM