LINCOLN, Neb. — The Cumberland Raiders, a local roller rink hockey team, won three national championships in Lincoln, Nebraska, in July. The Raiders won titles in the men’s Senior Silver, youth 15U and youth 18U divisions.
“It feels good, we thought the 15-year-old group would do pretty well,” team owner and coach Pat Ferguson said. “But it was a major surprise that the 18-year-olds did as well as they did out there. The senior men we knew they would do well so that wasn’t a surprise either.”
The 15U and 18U teams were the same rosters; they won both divisions despite playing older competition in the 18U field. They were eligible to do so since youth athletes are allowed to play in two divisions: Their own based on age, and the division above.
Most of the players were 13 years old competing in the 13- to 15-year-old age range while also competing in the 18U group.
After splitting their first two matchups with Bedford, Pennsylvania, they met a third time to decide the championship. Tied at 2-2 in the second half, the Raiders scored two unanswered goals as Christian Sarver and Jindrich Cuautle scored one each.
In the final minutes, Bedford scored to cut their deficit to one goal. However, Carson Hamelin saved several shots in the final moments as Cumberland held on to win 4-3. Hamelin finished with 21 saves in the championship and 87 overall in five games. He also allowed 22 goals in the five games.
The Raiders were led by Sarver, Cuautle and Jackson Miller offensively. Sarver scored eight goals and eight points while Cuautle and Miller each scored six goals in five games.
“We used Jackson (Miller) mostly in the back of the zone, he was the one that would start the plays,” Ferguson said. “Cuautle and Christian (Sarver), both of those guys were extremely good skaters that were able to stop, and cut and change direction to where it really sparked the offense. That was kind of expected when they played boys their own age, when they played older ones I didn’t expect it. As the tournament wore on, they gained more confidence to where they were ready to challenge.”
Cumberland’s 18U team also faced Bedford in the championship since they were the only two teams. This was the fifth meeting between the teams; Bedford won the first four, holding the Raiders to five combined goals.
In the title game, Cumberland led at halftime 1-0 as Miller scored about halfway through the first half. Bedford scored with five minutes remaining to tie the game.
Hamelin made several diving saves to keep the score tied and force sudden death overtime. At the 4:22 mark of overtime, Cuautle scored the game-winning goal on a back hand crank shot.
Hamelin made 25 saves in the championship game and 42 in two games played. Sarver and Miller each finished the two-game run with three goals while Cuautle’s one goal sealed the championship.
“Each game they just seemed to play a little better,” Ferguson said. “When it came down to the championship, Carson (Hamelin) got hot and Bedford wasn’t able to score on him.”
The Senior Silver Division team played five games, clinching the title in a 6-0 sweep against Salt Lake City. In the championship game, Adam Armbruster scored four goals en route to winning the Silver Division MVP award.
He led Cumberland with nine goals and 10 assists in five games. Scott Ferguson scored five goals and nine points while Joey Conrath finished with three goals and three points.
Kevin Ellsworth saved 148 shots and allowed 33 goals; his performance earned him the Most Valuable Goalie award. Ellsworth did this despite only having about three months to train for the championship.
Prior to this, he hadn’t played rink hockey in about 20 years. Ellsworth played it as a child but moved to Europe to race bikes professionally.
“His reflexes are very, very fast,” Pat Ferguson said. “He had an impressive tournament for the lack of playing time he’s had for the last 20 years.”
At the conclusion of the tournament, the Raiders had several players and coaches named to the USA National Team. Hamelin, Sarver, Miller and Brodie Iski were all selected to the Junior USA National Team. Armbruster was chosen for the men’s national team with Ferguson joining him as a coach.
The Rink Hockey World Championships, also known as the World Skate Games, will be held in San Juan, Argentina, from Oct. 24 through Nov. 13.
“It’s an experience to be able to go to another country, that’s irreplaceable,” Ferguson said. “Those kids making that trip will learn tremendously, a quarter of the world is playing the sport professionally so they’ll be playing against professional players. We won’t stand much of a chance against them, but to be able to see it and witness it is just a lifelong dream.”