HACKENSACK, N.J. -- For the Montana Thunderblades, it was all about defense. More importantly, it was about smothering defense.
Defense has been the team’s mantra all season long, and the squad didn’t deviate off course when it arrived at the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier II Youth National Championships last week in New Jersey.
In the end, it was the Thunderblades’ effective defensive play that allowed them to capture the 14-and-Under A division championship Sunday morning with a 3-1 victory over Team South Dakota.
“This was everything we talked about all season long,” coach Mike Hass said. “It is like being on Cloud 9. We made it to the semifinals two years ago, and we knew we could get to this round soon.
“This was a true team effort, though. My assistant [Jay Murray] did an outstanding job in preparing and previewing our opponents. It is a championship for the players and the program.”
“We knew we could score, but we also had to play good defense. That has been the key for us all season. Here we had to turn it up to play a smothering defense, and we did it.”
However, the Thunderblades had to tighten things after a sudden start. Team South Dakota’s Carter Krogman gave his team a quick 1-0 lead in the game’s first minute, and South Dakota appeared to take control of the game early.
But the Thunderblades began to turn the tide when Chase Wessen tallied a game-tying goal to make it 1-1 at 13:05. Kody Chamberlin gave the Thunderblades the lead for good 58 seconds later when he found the net for a 2-1 advantage after the opening period.
From there, the Thunderblades played their game. Dawson Smith gave them a 3-1 lead with a goal late in the second period as both teams went into a tight-checking mode.
Even though Montana didn’t record a shot in the game’s final period, the Thunderblades allowed team South Dakota just three shots on net after they fired a combined 12 through the first two periods.
“It was a tight game, and we went into a defensive game,” Hass said. “We had the extra goal and then we really played well defensively. We didn’t give them anything.
“We relied on our defense to again pull through for us.”
It was also a big moment for Montana goalie Dysen Skinner, who was the lone netminder on the team’s roster. Skinner stopped 14 of 15 shots and was the third leading goalie overall in the division with a .923 save percentage.
He admitted feeling some tense moments in the final period.
“I knew it was on me and the defense in the final period,” he said. “This is a lot to think about in what we accomplished, but it certainly feels good. We knew if we played well defensively like we have all year, we could win it all.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.