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Centennial wins D-1 high school hockey title, the growth of game takes center ice

The Centennial Coyotes took down the Notre Dame Prep Saints to win the Arizona High School Hockey Association D-I state championship earlier this month in a game that further showed the growth of high school hockey.

The 4-3 final score reflected the tight game in which Centennial recorded 44 shots on goal compared to Notre Dame Prep's 42. The Coyotes were up 3-1 in the second period before the Saints stormed back and scored two unanswered goals to send the game to overtime at Mullett Arena in Tempe on Feb. 4.

"It was as evenly matched and as competitive as a game as you could ask for," said Kenny McGinley, president of the Arizona High School Hockey Association (AHSHA). "The hockey person inside of me loved every second of it."

Notre Dame lost the D-I championship in 2023 as well, falling to Desert Vista in overtime in a game that also took place at Mullett Arena, which has hosted the D-I championship game since 2022. The 5,000-seat arena is home to the Arizona State Sun Devils and the temporary home of the Arizona Coyotes.

"If you just close your eyes somewhere in that building, it's arguably louder than any other game that's played in there," McGinley said of the D-I finals. "The ASU games are fantastic ... Coyotes games are much better this year than they were last year, but something about high school sports and getting high school kids in there and people cheering for both teams in the building rather than when Coyotes or ASU play ...

"It just brings a whole new excitement level that is hard to match,'' he said.

Youth hockey has grown in Arizona over the past two decades, taking off after the Arizona Coyotes moved to the state.

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Today, there are 14 high school programs in the association. Within those school programs are about 40 teams that play at various levels. Apart from D-1, there are three other divisions based on hockey ability - D2, D3 and a JV division - which all conclude seasons on March 3.

"You go back to 2012, the Diamondbacks were not good; the Suns were not good; the Cardinals were not good; the Coyotes were the talk of the town that year," McGinley said. "It was an exciting thing for kids to get into, hockey-wise, and now those kids are in high school, so that's a huge contributor."

McGinley acknowledged the costs involved in playing youth hockey can be a challenge, which is something the association is taking into account.

"You can go kick a soccer ball and experience playing soccer with zero startup cost, you can't experience hockey with zero startup costs," McGinley said "You can't just like test it out, you have to be fully uniformed in order to play the sport. You have to have skates, sticks, et cetera."

He said the association regularly talks about ways to keep costs down.

AHSHA is the only high school hockey association in the state and is sanctioned by USA Hockey, according to the association's website. It oversees high school hockey as a club sport, with players paying a $1,999 fee to help cover league costs such as ice rental and maintenance, as well as two customized jerseys, socks, custom gloves and shells.

"I wish we could say that manufacturing cost of equipment would come down, but as we see with everything else in this world, that's unlikely," McGinley said. "I wish ice would be less expensive to maintain, but we want high-quality ice. We want the building to stay cold. We want the ice to stay frozen. ... It's not a cheap endeavor."

Nonetheless, growth of the sport continues in the state, as young players watch former Arizona-born players such as Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews, who is from Scottsdale, or Arizona Coyotes' Josh Doan, and aspire to follow in their footsteps.

"Now, these kids are growing up saying 'I'm skating on the same ice that those guys skated on. They did it. There's no reason I can't do it as well.' That's a huge motivating driving factor,'' McGinley said.

"I think the biggest thing is we just have to expose as many people to it and hopefully grow as many fans of the game as we can," he added. "Playing the game may not be free, but appreciating the game is. It's something that everyone can do."

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Centennial, Notre Dame in D-1 Arizona high school hockey championship