WAYNE, N.J. -- Zeth O’Bryan scored in the first period and Jordan Bratton added a huge power play goal in the closing minute of the second period to lead the Affton Americans of St. Louis to a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Bandits to win the 18-and-Under AA title at the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier II Youth National Championship on Sunday morning at the Ice Vault.
It was a totally one-sided contest — except on the scoreboard. Affton dominated the play from the outset, collecting an unfathomable 53-19 advantage in shots on goal, but New Jersey goalkeeper Ross Mantione did everything he could to keep the Bandits in the game. He made 51 saves, several of which were of the athletic and acrobatic variety.
“My focus was on that I couldn’t let up any more goals,” said Mantione, a senior at West Milford High School in New Jersey. “If I let one more past me, it would have been a lot tougher than it already was.”
John Buckley tallied the lone goal for the hometown Bandits, who had a heroic run in the tournament. They were not expected to get past the quarterfinals, yet played for a national championship.
“No one gave us a shot in the dark to be here,” Mantione said. “I’m okay with the outcome. We played our hearts out.”
Brendan Shuck made 18 saves in net for Affton.
The Americans definitely had the best of the action in the first period, collecting 14 shots on goal, compared to just five for the host squad.
Thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Mantione, the Bandits trailed by only a goal, 1-0, after the first period. Mantione had 13 saves.
O’Bryan scored the Americans’ first goal on the team’s first shot of the game. He skated in on the right side and fired a high shot over Mantione’s left shoulder for the goal. It was O’Bryan’s second straight game with a goal. Brandon Oliver and Zach Mitchell were credited with assists.
“I was definitely trying to get a shot at the net,” said O’Bryan, who is only 15 years old and a freshman at Lindbergh High School in St. Louis. “I always try to shoot high, because sometimes you get a bounce off the glove. The first goal is always big, because it gets everyone else pumped up and gives the bench a lot of energy.”
The Americans entered the game as the tournament’s most dominant offensive team, outscoring their opponents 29-3 over their first five victories of the tourney.
The Americans did an excellent job of back checking in the early portion of the second period, not giving the Bandits any decent scoring chances and controlling the center portion of the ice.
The Bandits received a clutch play from defenseman Walter Keiper, who first broke up a potential 3-on-2 opportunity with a poke check, then stayed with the play to make a diving stop of a shot, killing the scoring chance and keeping the Bandits within a single goal.
Mantione also did a heroic job of keeping his team in the game, making two outstanding saves through traffic during one manic sequence midway through the period.
“He was incredible,” Bratton said of the opposing net minder. “I just thought that the way we were playing, we would get more goals.”
It turned out to be only one more.
Affton knocked home its second goal when Bratton scored on a power play in the final minute of the period. Bratton was positioned perfectly in front of the goal and slid the puck past a prone Mantione with just 45.4 seconds remaining in the period. Zach Mitchell received his second assist of the game and Trevor Wilhelm was also credited with an assist on Bratton’s goal.
“I just got to the net hard and was looking for a rebound,” Bratton said. “I wasn’t expecting the rebound to come right back to me. It was a really exciting game. I was glad to get the goal.”
The goal deflated the emotions of the obvious home crowd, who hung through a gut-wrenching second period, one that had Affton outshoot the home squad 21-6 and control the action the entire time.
The emotions were lifted in the opening minutes of the final period when Buckley made a fine play on a steal and then successfully operated a give-and-go with William Paro, who fired the puck past Shuck to slice the lead in half.
However, the Bandits suffered a huge loss when top forward Paro received a game misconduct penalty for an illegal elbow to the head of Brian Schumaker.
The Bandits pulled Mantione from the cage with 31 seconds left, resulting in a shot from Peter Beckwermert that Shuck corralled. There was a mad scramble in the closing seconds, but the puck never reached Shuck, as time expired.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. -- This may be the USA Hockey National Championships, but for the Tier I 14-and-Under Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Jr. Knights, there is definitely an international flair. A number of children of Russian immigrants as well as some Canadian kids play for the Jr. Knights. Their coach, Alex Vasko, communicates in his second language, a heavily accented English.
Whatever the languages spoken, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton won the national championship with a hard fought 4-2 victory Sunday over the St. Louis Blues.
“Awesome season,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach Scott Lewis said. “Great game. This is the fourth time we played them. The first time was a 2-2 tie. The next two times, we beat them 3-2 in overtime. Today was 4-2 with an empty netter. They are an unbelievable team to play against.”
“Our boys played really well,” St. Louis coach Jordan Janes said. “I thought they competed well for three periods. A couple of bounces just didn’t go our way. That’s a very talented hockey team we just played there. They won all year, and we gave it our all.”
The teams traded even-strength goals in the first period. First it was at 5:19 thanks to St. Louis’ Jake Henderson. Three minutes later, Alex Rowella tied it.
The second period saw a fast-paced contest with numerous scoring opportunities. The Jr. Knights took their first lead of the game at 6:07 on the power play. Daniel Sprong’s shot from the left point was tipped in by Nikita Anistratenko.
However, it only took 35 seconds for St. Louis to tie the game on their own deflection. Michael Davies’ shot from the left side was redirected up high by Luke Radetic.
Both goalies played superb, but it was the St. Louis goalie Luke Opilka who was particularly strong, as he was all tournament. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton needed a strategy to beat him.
“Just throwing shots on net, going for the rebounds if we can,” Lewis said. “Just throw more and more shots. Every chance you get, just get the puck on the net.”
It finally paid off at 13:40 of the second when Nikita Pavlychev gave the Jr. Knights a 3-2 lead. After a number of shots, a number of saves, and lots of scrambling, a rebound finally came out to the side. Pavlychev was there to put it into the open near side.
The third period was more of the same, with St. Louis trying everything they could to tie the game. The Blues pulled their goalie at the end, but Sprong scored the empty netter with 17 seconds left to seal the game.
“We had a tough schedule, but that’s what you want when you come here,” Janes said. “You want to play the best teams, and we certainly worked hard.”
“This is our fifth or sixth year,” Lewis said. “We compete in the Atlantic Youth Hockey League. It’s all about making the kids better hockey players and moving them onto the next level, whatever that is for the individual. Our organization owns the rink, so that makes it a lot easier for the kids to train.”
No matter what language that training is done in, the international flavor of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was able to form the proverbial melting pot to claim a national title.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.