SIMSBURY, Conn. — After winning the coin toss to determine the home team for Sunday’s USA Hockey Tier II 18-and-Under AA national championship game, Ashburn (Va.) Xtreme coach Steve Schneider opted to let his team be the visitors at the International Skating Center of Connecticut.
“The club gave us new black jerseys that we had never worn,” Schneider said. “My team wanted to wear them in the finals. We won the coin toss and chose to be away because we thought that would give us the advantage psychologically.”
It worked, as Ashburn built a to a 4-0 lead en route to a 5-1 win over the Florida Jr. Panthers to take the title.
Charlie Shepard had two goals and an assist for the Xtreme, while Trevor Mack added two assists.
“It’s awesome” Shepard said. “I’ve been playing here since I was 7 years old and now it’s my last game playing youth hockey. To win a national championship for the club I’ve always played for is unreal.”
Already up 3-0, Ashburn had a good chance to add to its lead after Brendan Walsh stole the puck and was tripped up by Andrew Tweeton on a breakaway. The Panthers’ Jason Famularo was called for a penalty as well, giving Ashburn two minutes of a 5-on-3 power play.
But goalie Robert Cash and the Panthers’ penalty killers held, keeping Ashburn off the board during the extended power play, although Florida wasn’t able to use any of the momentum from their penalty kill to get back into the game.
“We kill that 5-on-3 and we breathe a sigh of relief like we did something instead of growing from it,” Panthers coach John Griffin said. “I think it’s a bit of mental toughness thing that we need to work on.”
Ashburn took a 1-0 lead 2:14 into the first when Mack zipped a pass from behind the net to a waiting Shepard in front, who snapped it past Cash and into the back of the net.
“I remember them as Squirts when they were 9 and 10 years old,” Schneider said of Mack and Shepard, adding that much of his team had played together for several years. “There’s a lot of chemistry there.”
Two quick third period goals helps the Xtreme extend their lead. Shepard threaded a pass to down low to Bryan Golnek on the left post, who beat Cash to make it 2-0 at 0:31. Ashburn struck again under a minute later when Nick Tangora jumped on a rebound and shoved it into the net to make it 3-0 at 1:24.
Once they had the lead, Ashburn dropped its forwards back on defense, keeping the Panthers’ chances to a minimum.
“We trapped them a bit and kept both wings back most of the second half of the game,” Schneider said. “We said nothing fancy; just up and out of the zone, we’ll take the icings.”
Shepard added his second goal of the game at 6:16 in the third. Florida got on the board on a short-handed breakaway goal by Paul Paduano to make it 4-1, but Ashburn’s Julian Cronan scored later in the period to close the scoring at 5-1.
“We came close last year at the U-16 level,” Schneider said. “We came here with that experience that you carry from playing in a tournament. The kids were committed. For a lot of the seniors, this was the last time they were going to put on a jersey.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.