Team Odyssey could become the small-fry, in-line skating version of the national hockey champions, New Jersey Devils.
The Devils won the Stanley Cup with a sweep of the Detroit Red Wings last weekend. A team of roller hockey players from central Pasco and Tampa is bound next week for Illinois for the USA Roller Hockey National Championships.
Team Odyssey, a roller hockey team that plays at Skate Odyssey on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa, qualified for the national tournament by winning a silver medal in the Junior Division (ages 13-17) of the Southeastern regionals in Marietta, Ga., last month. The nationals are July 10-14 at the Odeum Sports Arena in Villa Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb.
"They played hard. This team hasn't been together that long, and they did really well," head coach Jessie Chittum said.
A 2-1-1 record in regional play earned Team Odyssey a berth in the national tournament. The local all-stars nipped Leesburg, Ga., 2-1; trounced Riverdale, Ga., 8-1; tied Southland of Pinellas Park 3-3; and lost to Gainesville 5-4.
Gold medalist Gainesville and bronze medalist Leesburg also qualified for the nationals.
Familiarity breeds success for Team Odyssey, according to Chittum. "They know each other on and off the rink," he said. "When they all work hard and work together, that's when they play best."
Working together in between the pipes were goaltenders Wesley Giddens of Wesley Chapel and Mitchell Segall of Carrollwood. Giddens went 1-1-1 and Segall, who started two games, finished 1-0.
Captain John Johnson, a rushing defenseman from Carrollwood, led the team with 10 goals. Johnson and Land O'Lakes' Frank Monte got Team Odyssey off to a quick start, both scoring in the opening 2-1 win. Chris Stutts assisted on both goals.
"(Johnson's) speed, and some of the others' speed, is what put us over on a larger rink," Chittum said.
Stutts, a stalwart defenseman from Temple Terrace who often stays back at the blue line when Johnson rushes in with the forwards, had five assists in the tournament.
"We want to keep the ball in their zone like the neutral-zone trap," Stutts said of the strategy used by the Devils and copied by Team Odyssey. "We keep the ball going at all times."
That is what Team Odyssey will have to do against regional medal winners in the national tournament.
Lutz resident Shawn Palumbo, who had three goals in the regionals, is confident. "We feel like we were good enough to make it," he said.