HACKENSACK, N.J. -- For Sasha Hartje, it had been a long, 10-year trek that had its share of peaks and valleys along with some possible detours. It was also a final script that probably couldn’t have been written any better.
In her final game with the program, Hartje celebrated her 15th birthday early Sunday afternoon with a Tier II 14-and-Under AAA championship as her Michigan-based USA Eagles downed the Miami Toros 3-1 at the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier II Youth National Championships.
She also marked her final year with her father, Tod, by her side, as Hartje will be playing in the girls’ division next year.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better than this,” she said. “To win a championship in my last year and on my birthday is amazing. This is the best present I could have asked for. But we all knew this was going to be our year.”
Her father also didn’t have many doubts that his team would be playing in New Jersey during the first weekend in April.
“There have been so many different storylines with this team, and it is nice to have them be rewarded in this way,” the coach said. “We had seven players who started in the program 10 years ago.
“They have just gone along and raised their game. We lost in the semifinals in the past few years, but they decided to come back for one more run. This is just one of those special groups. They will move on to other teams, but they will never spend the length of time they had on this team in the future.
“We wanted to get out fast and we did today.”
The Eagles got goals from Michael McInerney and Jake Novack 67 seconds apart in the game’s first five minutes as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead and dominated play in the early going.
Miami’s Seth Cohen brought his team back to 2-1 at 12:35 of the second period as the game’s momentum apparently began to shift. But Mitchell Shults scored an insurance goal just under seven minutes into the final period that cushioned the Eagles’ lead and brought a national championship back home to Michigan.
“We wanted to get pout to a fast start like we did in the other games,” Sasha Hartje said. “Once they scored, we got a little tight. But we knew we had to keep playing our game, and we managed to shut them down.”
Both Sasha and her father agreed the team’s mettle was tested when they lost in the quarterfinal elimination round game of the International Sliver Sticks Tournament earlier this season.
“We got to a point where we were either going right or left in our season,” the coach said. “Right was going to take us back on the path to New Jersey, and left would have us fiddle our season away. We decided to go right, and we got it.”
Sasha appreciated Tod’s guidance as a father and coach behind the bench.
“It’s been amazing,” Sasha said. “People would ask me how I could be with my father as a coach. But I like it better having him as a coach. He can work me every since day. He is not just a father but a great coach as well.
“It has been a phenomenal experience having Sasha with me,” Tod added. “It’s sad to see it end, but you couldn’t have asked for a better ending.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.