On Thursday night, the Jackson Hole Moose U19 girls hockey squad got to celebrate last weekend’s state championship win with a parade around town.
Whether the boys U18 team will receive similar honors won’t be learned until Sunday morning.
The Wyoming Amateur Hockey Association state tournament returns to the Snow King Sports and Events Center this weekend for the first time since 2017.
Jackson’s A team is seeded fourth in the six-team tournament, slated to take on Cheyenne on Friday and Gillette on Saturday. Whether they make Sunday’s championship will depend on what shakes out from those three teams’ round robin.
Gillette enters as the tournament’s No. 1 seed after skating through the season. Jackson settles for the No. 4 seed after three straight seasons seeded first in the state.
“We kind of started off slow trying to get our groove, and we really weren’t clicking as a team,” Jackson coach Matt Sauter said. “After New Year’s weekend, we started clicking with each other. Hopefully we’re peaking at the right time.”
Jackson has not won the U18 boys state championship since 2017, the last time Snow King hosted the tournament. Considering the turnout for senior Moose games through the winter, and the success of the girls last weekend, youth hockey program director Eric Ballard is hoping for sizeable community turnout.
“There’s a little traction with the girls winning state, so I think there’s a little buzz right now,” he said. “I think it’s going to turn out to be one great weekend of hockey, and hopefully our boys are ready to play at home and get the opportunity to play for a championship on Sunday.”
So far this season, Noah Luense leads the team with 26 goals and 22 assists. Rowan Wuerdeman has 18 goals and 16 assists.
It will take a stellar weekend from not just those two, but the entire squad from first line on down. The Moose will need to beat both Gillette and Cheyenne to earn that pool’s spot in the championship against the winner from the second pool of No. 2 Casper, No. 3 Pinedale and No. 5 Sheridan.
Sauter said Jackson’s low seed could be a blessing, alleviating pressure to claim the state title. However he rationalizes their potential, he believes the tournament is theirs to lose.
“I still think there’s expectations, because it’s home,” he said, “and I believe we are probably the best team. We just haven’t played like it yet.”