When Courtney Jones started forming his Tri-City Junior Americans squad last August, he felt he might have something good with this team.
"We sat down at the beginning of the season and talked to the boys when we recognized we had a pretty good team," said Jones. "We asked them, what's our goal here? Do we want to win our league title? Do we want to win the state title? Do we want to go to nationals?"
OK. How about all three? Because that's what the Midget 18 and under team did this season.
The Jr. Americans won the Pacific Northwest Amateur Hockey Association title in a league that consisted of three Seattle teams, one from Wenatchee and another from Spokane.
They finished with an overall record of 43-11-4, and they won the state title here in the Tri-Cities earlier this month. That win earned the squad a trip to USA Hockey's Tier II 18U National Championships, which begin Wednesday in Lansing, Mich.
The Jr. Americans become the first Tri-City team to play at a national tournament.
They open tournament pool play at 7 a.m. PDT Wednesday against the Pro Ambitions Nashua Panther Elites of New Hampshire. At 5 a.m. PDT Thursday, Tri-City takes on the South Central Alaska Wolves; and at 1 p.m. PDT Friday, the Jr. Amercians play the Chesterfield Falcons of Missouri.
The top teams advances after pool play.
Jones said that other area teams have qualified for regionals before. But three years ago, USA Hockey changed the format and eliminated regionals.
"Essentially, every state has a chance to send somebody to nationals now," Jones said.
And Jones likes his team.
"Obviously we want to go there and compete well," he said. "We want to say we did well. If we make it to the quarterfinals, then we have a chance to get to the semifinals.
"When we got to picking this team early on, we had to get the right pieces into the right places."
Jones said five kids played Tier I U-16 together last season. Five others played U-18 together; five more played bantam; and four of them played house hockey.
Chemistry has been the key.
"I kind of said this all season, but this is a good group of kids," said Jones. "I've coached hockey for 14 years, and this group has come together so well."
Leading the way on the ice is Brett Myer, who has scored 68 goals this season. Stephan Langston is next with 36 goals.
Casey Kaiser, who played in The Tri-City Americans' rookie camp last August, was the PNAHA's top goalie. But veteran Tyler Woodring also sees plenty of time in the net.
Five the the Junior Americans graduate from high school this year, and it looks like there may be another Northern Pacific Junior B team in the Tri-Cities next fall to replace the old Titans franchise.
Jones could lose some of his Jr. Americans to that new franchise. If not, the Junior Americans could be back next season.
For now, they'll just enjoy this ride to nationals.
TC JR. AMERICANS ROSTER: Lucas Brown, Logan Helgeland, Taylor J. Hester, Miller Jackson, Dylan Jones, Casey Kaiser, Stephan Langston, Chris W. McCormick, Kenneth A. Miller, Brett Myer, Casey Phelps, Aaron Questad, Travis Questad, Steven Sordahl, Aaron Tansy, Jason Trader, Preston Van Winkle and James Williams, Tyler Woodring.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Jason Miller and Billy Moffett.