TRAVERSE CITY — The travel hockey state championships may as well be held in Traverse City.
Most TC teams are headed there anyway.
Four Grand Traverse Hockey Association teams have already qualified for the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association state finals — and a fifth has a shot to earn a spot this weekend.
"I'd attribute it all to Dallas (Drake) and how he's brought a skills-based program into GTHA," said Bantam A coach Rob Johnson. "It started right about the time the kids that he has were younger. And it keeps getting better and better. ... If the kids are good enough to play, then anybody can teach them the system stuff at a higher level."
That includes playing a couple fewer games and focusing more on skill development.
"We've been for a number of years now having pretty competitive teams as part of our developmental aspect that we started eight or 10 years ago," Pee Wee AA coach Kerry Russell said.
"The last two or three years, we're really focused on skill development a lot in our practices," said Drake. "Sometimes it doesn't translate to wins all the time, but it does translate to a more skilled player. And it's starting to really pay dividends now, especially as the kids start to get a little older."
Here's how the five teams stack up:
Drake coaches the Bantam AA Traverse City Pepsi team that wasn't in a league, but played in loads of tournaments throughout the season.
Led by forwards Casey Gilling, Parker Hebden, Thomas Barnes and defenseman Dylan Cook — the younger brother of Team USA's Dawson Cook — the TC squad rang up a 41-10 mark.
Gilling scored an overtime goal against Mackinaw City to give the squad the district championship after wins against Sault Ste. Marie and Alpena.
At the state finals in Lansing, the Traverse City squad plays Grand Rapids, Plymouth and Lansing.