Down by two players because of suspensions, the Toledo Cherokee didn’t necessarily ask for a miracle in one of North America’s prominent youth hockey tournaments.
The Cherokee didn’t anticipate trouble, either. When the Cherokee lost a third player to a broken wrist, all could have gone wrong.
But even playing with a shorthanded lineup, the Cherokee regrouped to defeat Wellington (Ont.) 3-2 in a semifinal of the Silver Sticks hockey tournament, then went on to win the historic tournament title with a 7-0 win over Aurora (Ont.) in the Jan. 13 championship game of the tournament’s Pee Wee AA division in Newmarket, Ont.
“The players were in the finals last year,” said Cherokee coach Joe Sofo, whose team plays in the Detroit-based Little Caesars Amateur Hockey League. “They play at a very high level and they played like veterans [against Aurora]. They’re used to playing against some of the best teams in the country.”
The Silver Sticks tournament began in 1958 in Richmond, Ont., and labels itself as the largest North American minor hockey tournament, and draws 65,000 players and coaches from the United States and Canada in girls and boys hockey.
The Toledo Cherokee qualified for the Silver Sticks tournament by winning the Silver Sticks Mid-Am region in December, and are first in the nation (out of 153 teams) in the USA Hockey Pee Wee ’01 Tier 2 rankings.
Boosted by the play of forwards Tanner Dickinson and Mitchell Miller - who were the Cherokee’s leading scorers in the Silver Sticks tournament - and defenseman Jase Sofo and goalie Devon Bobak, the Cherokee won all three of its round robin games but lost two players who had to sit out of the semifinal against Wellington after receiving game disqualification penalties for checking from behind.
Down to five forwards and four defensemen in a semifinal against Wellington, the Cherokee held on for a 3-2 win.
“They executed everything that we as coaches asked them to do,” Sofo said. “They went out, kept the puck deep and kept their shifts short.
“It came down to the final shift and I told the players, ‘don’t give up a shot on goal.’ They blocked three shots on the last shift, and that was key.”