FOND DU LAC, Wis. — Kerry Preete walked into the locker room Sunday after his team had won a Central District Tier I 14-and-Under tournament game to find his St. Louis Blues players beaming with excitement.
However, they were also somewhat subdued.
“I think that it was a pretty clear message that they have some business to take care of yet,” Preete said. “I think they’re putting it in the right perspective.”
A 6-3 victory over the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals propelled the Blues into the USA Hockey National Championships April 3-7 in Pittsburgh and is just the first step in the team’s goal to win a national title.
The Blues finished the three-day district tournament undefeated at the Fond du Lac Family Ice Center, coming back from one-goal deficits in each contest.
“It says a little bit about the confidence that we have,” Preete said. “We had a game plan for each of the teams and we said, ‘Look, we’re not going to panic. We’re going to stick to the game plan.’”
Preete’s game plans rely on utilizing his team’s speed and applying defensive pressure. That resulted in netting the equalizing goal in all three games.
The Blues had productive point-scoring weekends from three of their best players: Brandon Puricelli, Logan Brown and Trent Frederic. The three first-liners each had hat tricks — Puricelli with four goals in a 5-2 victory Friday over the Chicago Mission; Brown a three-goal performance Saturday during an 8-3 win over Russell Stover; and Frederic a natural hat trick spanning the first and third periods in Sunday’s title game.
“Trent’s a heck of a hockey player,” Preete said. “In the past couple months he’s really come on. At this age, I don’t really want to label a kid, but he’s one of those guys you label as a constant power forward. He plays well at both ends of the ice; he can move the puck; he’s got good vision.”
With the game tied 1-1 in the second period Sunday, the Blues scored three times — two by Frederic and the last by Tyler Watson — in a 3:47 span to take a commanding 4-1 lead. However, the Admirals tacked on a goal at the end of the second period.
Preete could sense a shift in momentum as his players retreated to the locker room for the second intermission.
“We knew that next goal was going to be a big goal either way, and we were just fortunate enough to be able to take it to 5-2 and after that we were able to for the most part control the game,” Preete said.
Blues win 18U title
Another St. Louis Blues team, the 18U squad, also captured the district championship to advance to nationals.
The Blues won all three of their tournament games — the last by coming back to defeat Team Wisconsin, 3-2. St. Louis had to beat Team Wisconsin, which didn’t win a game over the weekend, to secure a spot at nationals.
“Even though Wisconsin was in a situation where they were out of it, I knew they were going to come out and they were going to be hard to play against,” Blues coach Scott Sanderson said.
Tied 2-2 late in the third period, Chase Berger tallied his second goal of the game with just 3:04 remaining to give the Blues the lead. With roughly 30 seconds left, Team Wisconsin pulled its goalie and peppered Blues netminder Cameron Gornet, who finished with 23 saves. According to Sanderson, his defenders blocked at least four shots in the front of the net to preserve the victory.
With his team tied late — for the third time in three days — Sanderson said he was never nervous about the outcome of the game.
“I was pretty confident with the veterans that I have,” Sanderson said. “I feel like when they’re playing well, I think they’re unstoppable, and that’s why I think they have so much success.”
The Blues beat the Chicago Mission 3-2 on Friday on a goal with one minute remaining. The next day against Russell Stover, it was a 1-1 game until four minutes left when the Blues went off for three goals and won, 4-1.
“They don’t get down and they don’t let up when they face a little adversity,” Sanderson said. “Adversity exposes character and when they get in those situations they keep battling.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Youth Tier I
14U: St. Louis Blues
16U: Chicago Mission
18U: St. Louis Blues