FOND DU LAC, Wis. — There was a bitter taste in the mouths of the Chicago Mission 16-and-Under boys’ hockey players that lasted almost one year.
In the 2012 Central District Tier I tournament, the Mission came up just shy of its goal to advance to nationals. This season, the team wasn’t going to be denied.
The motivated Mission squad scored on the first shift of the championship game on Sunday and went on to defeat Omaha 4-0 at the Fond du Lac Family Ice Center, to punch its ticket to nationals, which take place April 3-7 in Pittsburgh.
“That was going through my head the whole time and I wanted redemption, and I got it,” Mission goalie Elliot Gerth said. “Last year it was taken away from us by St. Louis, and we got to knock them out [in Friday’s first round].”
Gerth, who pitched a shutout with 39 saves, wasn’t the only player to feel Sunday’s victory was a long time coming.
“Last year was pretty bad. We had it, too,” said forward Matthew Wolf, who had two points in the championship with a goal and an assist. “Finally, this year we knew we were the better team and we came out and proved it.”
Mission coach Chris Michael was proud his team rebounded and kept focus on the goal of making nationals.
“We always talk about getting a second chance and making due,” Michael said. “They were ready and they’ve been waiting a year for it and they were written off by a lot of people.”
The Mission played a well-rounded game in the championship, netting two even-strength goals along with a power-play tally and a shorthanded, empty-net goal in the final minute of action.
“They’re the best team in the country, and they deserved to win,” Omaha coach David Wilkie said. “They outplayed us today, outworked us.”
Gerth played lights out between the pipes the entire game for Chicago. He turned away 14 shots in both the first and third periods and killed off four Omaha power plays. His biggest save came midway through the second period on a breakaway attempt where he stoned the Omaha player. That preserved a 2-0 Mission lead.
“Elliot tracked the puck and put the rebounds away and he controlled the game back there, which is huge for our guys,” Michael said. “You see him make a big save, it’s just a confidence boost.”
Chicago opened the scoring just 18 seconds into the game as Jason Dhooghe found the back of the net. Later in the opening period, Christian Fischer scored on the power play.
Wolf gave the Mission a 3-0 advantage with 54 seconds remaining in the second period. According to the players, the third goal loosened up him and his teammates and they knew a victory was close at hand.
“I feel like most of the time, the first one to three wins,” Gerth said. “I felt like when we got to three, we had a pretty safe cushion.”
Omaha thought it had pulled to within two at 3-1 late in third period; however, a goal was disallowed. With just over two minutes remaining in the game, Omaha went on the power play and pulled goalie Nathan Churchill, who stopped 28 shots, for an extra skater and a 6-on-4 advantage.
“We were a little nervous, but we had faith in the guys on the ice and faith in Elliot to stop the puck and it was just a whole team effort on the penalty kill,” Wolf said.
Omaha got some quality shots off, but with one second left on the power play, Mission forward Ryan Wagner scored an empty-net goal.
Chicago finished the weekend with an unblemished 3-0 record after scoring two one-goal wins in the opening two games.
“This is the toughest region in the country and to go 3-0, it tells you that we have some special players,” Michael said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Youth Tier I
14U: St. Louis Blues
16U: Chicago Mission
18U: St. Louis Blues