2022 National Championships: A Hockey Homecoming

Michigan Native Returns Home To Compete At 16U Nationals
By: 
Kyle Huson

The last couple of years have provided plenty of changes for so many people. Sam Hillebrandt knows this as well as anyone.

His life was uprooted when a job transfer at his father’s work sent the family packing from their long-time home in Michigan to Florida shortly after the start of the pandemic.

Hillebrandt was born in Port Huron and grew up playing hockey in the Little Caesars organization. The move forced him to find a new team in Florida. After a few calls, he landed a tryout with the Florida Alliance and quickly became an integral part of the team.

The 2022 Chipotle-USA Hockey Tier I 16U National Championship was a homecoming of sorts for Hillebrandt as the Alliance earned a spot in the 16-team tournament held in Rochester, Mich.

Coming back home provided a bright spot for the talented netminder.

“It was a lot of fun to play back at home. I had a lot of friends and family watching in the stands,” said Hillebrandt after the Alliance’s first game against Michigan-based Compuware. “I actually knew pretty much every kid on the team. It’s always fun playing against players that you’ve known and played against your whole life. It makes for a fun game.”

While the move has had its share of challenges, as it would for any teenager, Hillebrandt has found a new home with the Alliance. Playing in his second Nationals, Hillebrandt finished the tournament with a 1.94 goals-against average in three starts.

“He’s such a hard worker,” Alliance head coach Al Harges said early in the week. “He is going to be our main guy. He didn’t play much in last year’s tournament, but he grabbed the number one spot this year.”

More than just his work ethic, Hillebrandt has brought a swagger to his new team, which has rubbed off on his teammates.

“Sam hates losing. He’s such a good teammate, he’s always training. He does extra stuff all the time,” Harges added.

“When we first saw him in tryouts, you just knew his attitude was serious. He wants to be a serious hockey player and he’s a kid that just wants to be there. He’s just super nice and carries himself well. He is doing the right thing all the time and is just a good person.”

Even with all the hard work he’s put in to get here, Hillebrandt has twice experienced heartbreak on the National stage. In 2021, the team lost in the semifinals. This year, it was a loss to Culver Academy in a 12-round, 24-person shootout that ended the Alliance’s season in pool play.

Despite that, Hillebrandt enjoyed playing in the pinnacle tournament for youth hockey.
“This [Nationals] experience is unlike any other,” he said. “There’s so many things I can take from it. The atmosphere is great, and every game is a close game no matter who you are playing.”

 

Issue: 
2022-04

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