ASHBURN, Va. -- The 16-and-Under Oakland Junior Grizzlies were able to count on Joseph Savel for a goal in every game of the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier II Youth National Championships.
Savel had perfect timing on his championship-game goal.
The 1997 birth-year forward from Clinton Township, Mich. put Oakland ahead to stay in the third period on the way to a 3-2 victory over the St. Lawrence Thunder in the AAA final.
Savel’s reliable scoring and steady special teams play carried Oakland through the medal rounds. Both attributes were part of the go-ahead goal.
Just 19 seconds into a power play in the title game, defenseman Theo Calvas worked the puck deep into the left corner. Calvas then fired a pass toward the front of the net. Savel was there to settle the pass and score for a 2-1 lead at 3:36 of the third. The assist was Calvas’ only point of the tournament.
“It happened so fast,” Savel said. “I just wanted to get it off and when I did, it went in. It was just a great pass. We were able to take momentum, and we ended up getting another one so that was great.”
Brandon VanOphem scored on an assist from Joseph Barton at 8:31 for a 3-1 lead.
The Grizzlies wound up needing the cushion.
The Thunder scored with 58 seconds left, and Oakland did not secure title until the very end. St. Lawrence won an offensive zone faceoff with 6.5 seconds left and its goalie pulled, but the Grizzlies’ defense smothered a desperation shot in front of the net.
Only St. Lawrence’s Kaden Pickering, who opened the tournament with four straight two-goal games, had more goals in AAA than Savel, but Oakland kept Pickering off the board in the final.
Savel wound up leading all AAA players in assists (11) and points (17).
“I was really excited about it,” said Savel, who is hoping the performance helps him land a chance to play at a higher level after progressing through the Grizzlies youth programs for seven years. “I thought I played pretty well this tournament.”
Coach Brad Jones said the Grizzlies have been able to rely on Savel’s production all season.
“He was our top offensive player,” Jones said. “He sees the ice very well. He comes up big in big games and he proved it again in this national championship. We had numerous guys chipping in for us to get here. Everyone contributed in their own way, and that’s why we’re wearing the medal.”
Oakland was the only semifinalist with a loss in the tournament.
After falling to the Dallas Penguins Friday in the final game of pool play, the Grizzlies eliminated the unbeaten leaders of each of the other three pools during bracket play.
Oakland got two power-play goals in each of those games, going 6-for-22 (27.3 percent), while its penalty kill held opponents to 2-for-20 (10 percent).
In the final, the Grizzlies stopped the Thunder five times, including 23 seconds of 5-on-3 play to end the first period and start the second, and four minutes shorthanded in the game’s final 12:18.
As the last seconds of penalty killing wound down with 2.5 minutes left and the Grizzlies still ahead by two, Mark Rogers, the team’s second-leading scorer in the tournament, used his body to make a diving block of a shot from the point.
“We were put to the test late in the game, but we had guys going down, blocking shots, doing what we had to do,” Jones said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.