Blount Press Row

Liner Notes

Alcoa senior, U18 Ice Bears, make youth hockey nationals

Shattered-Hockey-copyhoriAaron Liner will captain the junior Ice Bears at the USA Hockey Youth championships this week at Wayne, N.J. Photos and illustration by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

Look out, Canada.

Few more grandfathers like this, and we’re coming for that gold medal.

The Knoxville Amateur Hockey Association 18U Ice Bears are the 2014 state champions and will represent Tennessee at the USA Hockey Youth National Championships this week in New Jersey.

The Knoxville Amateur Hockey Association 18U Ice Bears are the 2014 state champions and will represent Tennessee at the USA Hockey Youth National Championships this week.

Aaron Liner came home with a note from the teacher as a third-grader nine years ago. The Little League baseball season had just ended, and Liner, admittedly, was “off task” for some reason.

“His grandfather said, ‘That boy needs to play hockey,’” Dawn Liner, Aaron’s mom, said.

Roy Tufts was right, too.

Dawn, a Toronto native and life-long Maple Leafs’ fan, enrolled Aaron in a Knoxville Amateur Hockey Association youth program. Aaron was at full speed on the ice by the end of the first day.

Wednesday, the Alcoa senior and KAHA 18U Ice Bears captain will lead his team onto the ice at the USA Hockey Youth National Championships in Wayne, N.J.

The junior Ice Bears (42-4-3) open against the Morgantown (W.Va.) Blades at Ice Vault Arena on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.

Finals are scheduled for Sunday.

“These are the best teams in the country we’re about to start playing,” Aaron said. “We’ve played some good teams, but these are the best of the best.”

Liner fires the puck up ice.

Liner fires the puck up ice.

Aaron has put home 25 goals this season, third-best among Bears behind leader Braden Pichel (38) and Lucas Despins (25). A plus for the team, Liner said, is the Bears have scorers in all their lines.

Gage Despins and Felix Bjurstrom have found the netting for 23 goals each, with Jobe Mason (20) and Jake Fountaine (17) also in double figures.

Joshua Quarles is 20-3-1 in goal with an impressive 2.03 goals against average. Mitchell Kestner (16-1-2, 2.07) means the Ice Bears lose little when they make the switch.

It’s a deep, veteran team, Aaron Liner said, one he feels can make the difference in the Ice Bears third trip to the national tournament in as many seasons.

“We have much higher expectations this time,” he said. “The first time we went up there, it was, more or less, to see what’s going on, what it’s like. We’ve had the good fortune of having our team together for three years now.”

What Tufts saw early and Aaron eventually realized was hockey would be the perfect sport by the time Aaron grew into the 5-foot-10, 175-pound forward he’s become.

“The physical part is the toughest aspect,” Aaron said, “but it’s also really quick. It really occupies my brain.”

Grandpa knows best.

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