Community Sports

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT: U-17 hockey team ready to start chase for third straight title

It’s fortunate for the Whatcom Warriors that Daniel Herda and Greg Parsons can’t get enough hockey.

The Warriors, who are preparing to bid for their third consecutive U-17 state championship, usually skate five men down while com-peting in two leagues.

“Other teams have 20 players, including two goalies, and we have 15, including our two goalies,” said coach Dave Bruce, a former Na-tional Hockey League player who saw his squad respond over the first four months with a 31-6-4 record.

Bruce said Herda and Parsons are on the verge of a championship hat trick, since no other local player has played on three title teams. The Warriors will attempt the feat Feb. 14-18 at several venues in the Tri Cities.“We will win our third straight,” said Parsons, an outgoing 17-year-old Squalicum senior.

Bruce is counting on it, as well: “I definitely will be disappointed if we don’t win state, although we have to prove we’re the best.”

Herda, a 17-year-old Squalicum junior, has 34 goals. Eight of them came during a recent 18-hour period in Spokane, when the Warriors played three games, winning two to qualify for state competition. And they did it with only 10 skaters.

Seeing a lot of ice time doesn’t seem to bother Herda, Parsons or the rest of the Warriors.

“Hey, we even love practice,” said Herda, a left wing who played both hockey and football as a sophomore and still plays baseball. “We just love hockey, and we have loved it since I started playing in first grade and Greg in second grade.”

Bruce especially appreciates the unselfish, aggressive team play the gregarious Parsons provides.

“Greg is a grinder,” Bruce said. “Call him a speedy right wing who is a real playmaker.”

The boys feel fortunate to play for Bruce, who is the second former NHL player to become involved in youth hockey at the Sports-plex. He has coached local youth since moving to Bellinham nine years ago.

Bruce played 15 professional seasons, including six in the NHL with Vancouver, St. Louis and San Jose in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The 43-year-old coach is a longtime buddy of Garth Butcher, who was Bruce’s NHL teammate for a while and serves as director of hockey for the Sportsplex.

“It’s different having him for a coach just because he’s experienced it all,” Parsons said of Bruce. “He tells us the truth.”

“We have great respect for our coach because he really knows what he’s talking about,” Herda said.

The Warriors are the only Washington team in the Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association. Bruce is proud that about 75 percent of their victories have come over Canadian teams in that league.

The Warriors, who began their season in September, travel thousands of miles each year. They face far-flung Washington competition — the closest is in Seattle — in the Pacific Northwest Amateur Hockey Association.

While winning the past two state tournaments, the Warriors went 5-0 and 4-1 (losing only in pool play). The top two finishers at state qualify for March regional tournament at Simi Valley, Calif against the top teams from five states.

The regional champion goes to the USA Hockey nationals, but neither Bruce nor his players are thinking that far ahead.

“The higher you go, the tougher it is to match basically two lines against four lines from all the other teams,” Bruce said. “Our team is pretty amazing, especially considering we draw from a much smaller pool of potential players than other programs.”“We have eight younger players — 15 and 16,” Parsons said. “And they are really good younger players.”The talent of the team has Bruce envying his players.“I wish I could still play,” Bruce said. “I get a little antsy on the bench.”With only 13 skaters, the Warriors could certainly use him.