The neon jungle which is Las Vegas might not appear to be the logical setting for an inline hockey championship but that’s exactly where the 2014 Junior Olympics are being held July 17th.
The Red Deer U12 Snipers will be part of the spectacle in the AAA division of the competition which involves teams from around the United States as well as some international competition.
“Our U12 team has done quite well this year,” said Head Coach Troy Park. “We’re undefeated. We’ve done three tournaments and a couple of exhibition games so we haven’t lost yet this year.”
Park said a realistic expectation from his young team is to place in the top three at the tournament which involves between 16 and 24 teams.
“I’ve been to the Junior Olympics before so I sort of know what to expect for competition. With the squad I’ve got this year we should do very well if the kids play like I know they can.”
The Snipers team appears to be very strong from the goal out according to Park and he underlines the fact the kids on this team play together for the most part within the Red Deer Minor Hockey system or as part of the inline association.
“This will be the third year I’ve had this group of kids so they know what I expect of them and how we play,” he said. “Outside of hockey they also go to school together so it really gels for the kids, they get along pretty good.”
That familiarity is a strong enough benefit for the Snipers going into the event to allow the practices leading up to the date to be more centred on the small details of being in the right position, knowing where your partners are going to be, said Park.
The confidence level of the players is also at a high level in a sport which Park added is all about puck control and breaking down the other teams system.
“Once you do that, that’s when you get your best scoring chances. With our kids, really knowing what the other kids are trying to do on the floor really helps us out against other teams.”
Another perceived advantage for the Canadian kids is the fact most of them play hockey in the winter which is a much more aggressive game than it’s inline counterpart which most of the southern United States teams play year round.
“When you play teams from California and Phoenix they’re all about trying to slow the game down and really trying to get you out of your rhythm,” he said. “So what I’ve done is teach the kids a lot of puck pressure drills. If we don’t have the puck, I want it back.”
The great equalizer however will be the heat in the desert.
“It’s going to be plus 40C temperatures down there which our kids aren’t used to playing in. We’re playing at the big convention centre so I’m hoping the AC is working but there’s a couple of smaller rinks we’ll be playing in that I know for sure that they’ll have no cooling system.”
The bright lights of Sin City could be a distraction for anyone but Park said he has a plan to keep his troops focused on what needs to be done over the three-day tournament.
“They understand and the parents understand when the tournament is on and they’ve got a game there’s going to be curfews and they’re there to really represent Red Deer and our inline program that we run. That’s why we’re down there, for probably one of the biggest tournaments in North America and we’re there to do our best and hopefully come back with a medal and really represent Red Deer in the proper way.”