York Devils ice hockey team has 'something to prove' at national championships

DANTE GREEN
717-505-5418/@TaySean14
A pep rally is held to send off the York Devils 14U AA ice hockey team at York Ice Arena in York City, Thursday, March 24, 2022. The team will compete in the USA Hockey 14U Tier II National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mi., March 31 to April 4. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Ice hockey isn’t the most high-profile sport in York.

The area high schools don’t have varsity ice hockey programs and none of the schools have ice hockey rinks.

The area isn’t known for any big-time hockey programs or NHL players.

One local team, however, is hoping to change that.

The York Devils’ 14-and-under AA team won the Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association district championship earlier this month and advanced to the USA Hockey national championships, which will be held from Thursday, March 31, to Monday, April 4, in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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It is the first time in at least 15 years that a York hockey team is headed to a national championship. The Devils are one of only two Pennsylvania teams going to nationals.

Recently, program supporters held a pep rally to celebrate the Devils’ achievement. The team members are happy their hard work since the summer has paid off and got them to this moment. 

“We are excited and proud to be here. They went through some good times and some bad times they managed to stick together and build on their momentum. It’s a really talented team,” team manager Bill Schafer said. 

In Michigan, the Devils will play three teams, one each from Alaska, Illinois and North Dakota. If the Devils can beat all three, they will take home the championship. They feel confident about their chances and are not just happy to be there.

“We want to win the whole thing. It isn’t good enough to just say we went there. We have something to prove. We are going to have to shoot well and block shots,” said freshman defenseman Tyler Woodall.

At the pep rally, the team members heard from former players and coaches who might not have excelled to the degree that this team has, but who know the importance of the current team’s achievement. The current team heard loud cheers from the crowd and were given a strong send-off for their next journey. 

Head coach Matt Doyle has seen the progress his team has made this season and believes they have a real shot at winning everything.

“We are feeling confident. We are very prepared. We have been consistent,” he said. “We have had a lot of challenges and these guys have worked hard every step of the way. The level of day-to-day preparation we have had has been unmatched.”

The Devils have written a true underdog story. York is typically eliminated by bigger, Philadelphia-area clubs with rosters from much-bigger population areas. Hockey is also not a sport that receives a lot of attention in these parts. The team consists mostly of 15- and 14-year-old players who have trained together as a group for years. Many of the players met each other through hockey and have been playing together since they were 5. 

It’s a chance to not only put their team's name on the map but get some attention from college programs that may not have been looking at any of the York players before.

Time will tell exactly what this means for hockey’s future in York. 

Reach Dante Green at dgreen@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @ydsports.