In a year with countless ups and downs, TCE 16U Girls certainly experienced their fair share. From quarantines to player departures, from mid-season player additions to last second game cancellations, and from injuries to a stunning Southeast District Championship, Coach Paul Finch and his ambitious group of young female players had a first row ticket to the unprecedented 2020-21 season.
The season began like none other with tryouts taking place in the beginning of August and in the unfamiliar setting of Bowie Ice Arena. As the season began to take form, a stark reality became apparent: Tri-City’s inaugural entry into the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Hockey Association (MAWHA) was essentially going to be in nomenclature only. Travel restrictions quickly tamped down on the 16U Girls season schedule, limiting play to within the DMV. Nonetheless, the team grew, bonded, and plowed through all opposition.
The TCE 16U Girls team finished the CBHL season in 1st place, an 11-0-1 record, and an impressive 65 goals for and only 9 against. In short, the girls were dominant. The Piedmont Predators provided the stiffest opposition, trading results in various competition through the year. In CBHL play though, TCE finished undefeated against Piedmont with the only blemish being a a 5-5 tie in December. That was followed up by three consecutive TCE CBHL league wins of 3-1, 3-0, and 3-0. The Eagles entered CBHL Playoffs as the clear favorite and full of confidence.
It was not to be. The Eagles were stunned in the championship with a 4-0 defeat to the upstart Predators. A season full of expectation was seemingly dashed in a single afternoon at Skate Frederick.
However, despite the disappointing setback, there was a silver lining. Two PVAHA teams were to attend the Southeast District Girls Tier II Tournament in Nashville, TN. The 16U Girls team would enter as the lowest seed. The first scheduled game for the TCE 16U Girls: a grudge match with the Piedmont Predators.
Redemption was in store, as the Eagles blanked the Predators 2-0. That was followed up with a convincing 8-1 victory over the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes. TCE finished out pool play with a 3-1 win over previously undefeated Florida Alliance.
The SE District Tournament Championship Game took place the very next morning, featuring a 2nd matchup versus Florida Alliance. With a trip to USA Hockey Nationals on the line, the Tri-City Eagles 16U Girls punched their ticket to Colorado with a 4-1 win, marking this the first time ever a TCE Girls team has been crowned USA Hockey Southeastern District Champions.
The Girls Travel Tier II USA Hockey National Tournament will take place from April 28-May 3rd in Denver, Colorado. They will be joined by the Girls 14U team making it not only the first year for a TCE Girls teams to go to Nationals, but also the first time two will attend.
We were able to catch up with Coach Paul Finch of 16U Girls and get some of his valuable insights on the team, the obstacles they have overcame and the memorable experiences they are about to enjoy.
TCE: How was this team able to rebound from the devastating results in the CBHL Championship?
PF: For the team, the loss in the CBHL Championship was a disappointment. One of the goals the team set at the beginning of the season was to win the CBHL Championship and bring home a Championship banner to the program. That said, these young ladies are resilient. They were able to put that one game behind them and focus on the bigger picture; the road to Nationals.
TCE: Is there a singular moment that defines the SE District tournament for you?
PF: I would have to say Game 1. That game in particular set the stage for the rest of the tournament.
To give some context, we had been trading wins and losses with a competitive Piedmont Predators team throughout the season. Unfortunately, we fell short during some of the bigger games, like the Affiliate Tournament to seed for Districts and then again in the CBHL Championship Game. That would NOT be the case in game one in Nashville. Our girls came out ready to play from the drop of the first puck. They played with confidence, heart, and grit, to pull off a hard-fought 2-0 win.
TCE: What will this do for TCE Girls hockey moving forward?
PF: From a TCE program perspective, I’m hoping that this exposure and experience on the National stage, as well as within the Mid Atlantic Women’s Hockey Association (MAWHA), will give those competitive female athletes in this area alternative options to compete with a highly competitive program.
TCE: Can you capture the emotion of the Southeast District Tournament weekend in a single sentence?
PF: From a coach’s perspective, I could sum it up to one word – Honored. I couldn’t be more proud of what these young ladies accomplished. Their dedication, efforts, and initiative to work hard and have fun throughout the season have been a pleasure to be a part of.
TCE: What are you most looking forward to seeing at USA Hockey Nationals?
PF: I look forward to seeing the best of the best; competitive female athletes playing at the top of their game in a sport I love to coach.
Thank you, Coach Finch, in all that you do for TCE, our young women, and the sport of ice hockey. Congratulations to your players on this amazing accomplishment! We’re proud of your team’s accomplishments and look forward to cheering you on next week! Go EAGLES!