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Team Wyoming 18U Hockey Team wins first-ever National Championship

Photo Credit: USA Hockey National Championships

CASPER, Wyo. — When Aaron Gallant started on the 14U AA Wyoming Hockey Team as a freshman, his coach told him that in four years, they could win a National Championship. Even as a kid, Aaron recognized that this was probably just a pep talk from a coach who aimed to inspire greatness. What’s he going to say? “No, I don’t think you guys will win?”

Aaron took the comment in stride. He took it as it was intended: as something that would motivate him to be the absolute best player he could be.

Except, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum/Palmer Imaging Arena.

Four years later, his team won the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 18U 1A National Championship. And they did it with a 4-0 shutout. After going undefeated the entire season.

“This win means a lot because Coach said, my first year on the team, that in four years we would have a chance to win,” said Aaron, the team captain of the 18U team. “And he sounds like a genius because, I mean, it happened.”

Indeed it did, and it’s the first time the Team Wyoming 18U Hockey Team has ever won the National Championship.

“The 14U boys and the 16U boys won it in 2016, but the 18U program not only has not ever won it before; but we’ve never even been to the championship before,” said Head Coach Laramie Davies. “We’ve never been the one-seed, the first-place seed, coming out of round robin. Actually, the first year we ever won a medal was my seventh year coaching the team. In the 2022 championships, we finished bronze. We finished bronze last year. That means we got beat in the semifinals in each game. And we’ve never been undefeated.”

They were this year. They had, for all intents and purposes, the perfect year, the perfect season, and the perfect game.

According to the Wyoming Amateur Hockey Association website, “Practices and games commence in September to allow teams to play before the Wyoming Amateur Hockey League (WAHL) season starts in November. Then, further TW games are typically scheduled during holiday weekends to avoid conflicts with the WAHL League schedule. Because TW players are from all over the state, it is very difficult to schedule practices. Therefore, TW players are expected to practice and play games with their home association in the WAHL League to improve their hockey skills throughout the season. TW teams travel to games and tournaments in the Rocky Mountain region and usually play at the AA level.”

The really special thing about Team Wyoming is that the members of the team are actually, more often than not, opponents.

“The curious and interesting thing is that these kids play for their high school organizations throughout the year, so they’re really playing each other in heated battles,” said Dr. Stuart Youmans, the team’s manager and dad of one of the players. “It’s Casper versus Gillette, or Gillette against Jackson, and so on. And so they’re really heated rivals throughout the season. But in between weekends for Wyoming Hockey and tournaments for their own home organizations, they come together and travel and play together as Team Wyoming. And it’s just super cool to see them be rivals one weekend, and then teammates the next.”

And it was as Team Wyoming that these young men captured their very first National Championship.

It was a hard-fought win, after a season of them. But Team Wyoming kept playing. They kept fighting. And they kept winning.

The USA Hockey National Championship website wrote that “After combining comebacks, late game-winners and even overtime escapes in its unbeaten run through the 1A bracket, Team Wyoming locked up the title Sunday morning with a 4-0 shutout of the Idaho Junior Steelheads (ID) at the Palmer Imaging Arena.”

The skill and talent level of the Steelheads should not be overlooked, but Team Wyoming was just that much better.

“These boys came out from the very beginning of the game, and you could tell that they weren’t gonna lose,” said Coach Davies. “And for me to be able to see that, and see the growth and maturity these boys have gone through over the last six to eight months — with these guys next to each other, and the brotherhood that they’ve built — it’s been pretty easy for me to just watch them win and watch them gain and deserve all the glory that they’ve gotten. But it meant even more to me as a coach, and as a man, to see even bigger things than the game that they did together.”

And, really, isn’t that the point of youth sports? To teach young men and women about life? To teach them how to win, how to lose, how to fall, and how to get back up? Coach Davies certainly thinks so.

“Hockey and life, I think, relate a lot to each other,” Coach Davies said. “In my intro meetings at the beginning of the year, I always tell them ‘In the pie that is your life, the slice of hockey isn’t going to be that big. But the impact of this game could outweigh the rest of that slice.’ I’m a firm believer that this game can teach them adversity, character growth, maturity, tears of joy, tears of sadness, picking each other up when we’re down, and more.”

That’s why Davies became a coach; not so much to win games, but to teach his players how to win, and help others win, at life.

“I think sometimes being told ‘no,’ and sometimes being held accountable in spots that they never thought they could be in ultimately builds them as a person,” he said. “My firm belief is that if we’re great people out on the ice, we’re going to become better people in our society. I think every one of these kids will be impactful in a positive way; whether they’re a better brother, a better son or, ultimately in their lives, better husbands and better fathers in the future.”

It’s that attitude, that standard of living that Coach Davies and the rest of his support staff try to impart on their players, at any age. In many cases, Coach Davies gets these young men for four years of their lives. He has four years to try and teach them everything he knows about hockey, yes. But, more importantly, he has four years to try and teach them everything he knows about being a good man, about being a good human being.

“What this game has taught these boys — and obviously winning the championship is easy to look back on as a highlight — but hopefully in the future they can look back and say, ‘You know what? Hockey was great but I turned into a better young man after the season was done too.’ That was the biggest impact I wanted to put on these boys’ lives. And I was able to do that through the game of hockey, and I cherish that opportunity, from the bottom of my heart.”

Dr. Youmans believes that’s exactly what Coach Davies, along with his staff, several parents, and many more people behind the scenes, have done.

“I hope this proved that all the effort is worth it,” Dr. Youmans shared. “Whether it’s in hockey or life, the trick is being able to keep up the effort, keep up the hard work, keep your head down, keep focused, and keep your goals in sight. And I don’t think anybody truly expected us to go out there and win. This is the first time in Wyoming history that the 18U team has won. And there’s a quote that says, ‘If people aren’t laughing at your dreams, you’re not dreaming big enough.’ This was a big dream, and they achieved it. And now, there are going to be bigger dreams on the horizon. So, to our boys, I say ‘Keep dreaming big, keep pushing, keep doing the hard work, and you’ll watch things get good.'”

Gallant was able to watch the team, his team, get very, very good. And while he’s quick to defer congratulations to everybody else, he is honored that he was able to help lead the team, his team, to such a monumental moment.

“Being the captain means a lot to me,” he expressed. “Because it means I can kind of guide some of our younger guys through the things that I’ve been through before; like if we’re down in games, or even basic things like going through a good warmup, or learning how to prepare for games, or how to recover from games, I’m able to lead our younger guys through times that they might not have experienced before. I’m glad I could be that guy that the team can look up to when we face adversity. Like, if we’re down in the game, late in the third period, I want to be on the ice. I want to have the puck on my stick. I take a lot of pride in leading these guys.”

And even though the season is over, the game has been won, the congratulations have been levied out, Gallant doesn’t want that to be the end of his mentorship. Whether he or the rest of the team keep playing or not, he wants to be somebody that the guys can turn to in any situation — hockey, or life, or otherwise — and offer them something that helps move them forward. As a hockey player in a famous Disney movie once said, “Ducks fly together.”

“If there’s one thing I could leave this group with, it would be to take every moment in like it’s going to be your last,” Gallant shared. “I mean, I was talking to Coach four years ago, and that seems like it was just the beginning of the season. So take everything in and don’t take anything for granted because you never know when your career might be over or when it might be your last game. Just be thankful. Be grateful. And don’t take anything for granted. This has been the best time of my life with these boys, and I wish I could live it over again.”

So, too, does Coach Davies. What he saw in his team four years ago has manifested exactly how he thought — no — exactly how he knew it would. He saw something in his team that even they didn’t see in themselves at the time.

Hopefully, they see it now.

“This is, ultimately, what a coach dreams of right now,” Coach Davies stated. “Everybody has that ultimate goal, but I planned this out; this group, and these two age groups about four years ago. And I told the first year team that I was coaching that, you know, unfortunately, winning might not be everything for us this season. But once we create a good culture, once we get a good expectation of where we want to head, then we can have an expectation to win but we can also understand what it means to win. And I think we do.”

So what does winning mean? Well, it depends on who you ask. But for Coach Davies, the real “win” was seeing what his boys could accomplish when they worked together.

“This championship is going to forever make them as close as they could be as a hockey team, as a group, as a brotherhood, as a family,” he said. “Trophies are great. Celebrations are fun. But seeing these young men grow as a family when, ultimately, the odds are against us every weekend, and every time we go on the ice together — to prove all of that wrong together, as twenty young men, was super rewarding to me as a coach, and as a man.”

Congratulations on the victory. Now, as these boys grow up and ship out and move on…that’s when the real work begins.