GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was a game that seemed like it could go on forever.
So it was only a fitting a local product ended the longest and last contest of the 2014 Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Youth National Championships.
Green Bay native Tony Stillwell scored with just 3:36 remaining in the fourth overtime of the 16-and-Under national championship game to give the hosts from Team Wisconsin a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Thunderbirds on Sunday at the Cornerstone Ice Center.
“Just the best game of my life,” said Stillwell, who is a junior at Green Bay Notre Dame Academy, which plays its home games at Cornerstone.
The goalies on both teams played out of their minds, but Stillwell was able to solve Thunderbirds goaltender Kristofer Carlson.
Holding the puck in Wisconsin’s zone, Stillwell skated from the point and worked his magic.
“I took it outside around a guy, back to the inside and just ripped it on net,” said Stillwell, who has verbally committed to play hockey at the University of Wisconsin. “I saw it in the back of the net and I just went down towards [our] goalie and everyone was on top of me. It was just a crazy feeling.”
The shot weaved through traffic in front of the net and came in clean on Carlson — who had 29 saves — beating him on the short side.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” Wisconsin goalie Henry Cutting said. “I saw Stillwell coming down the ice on his knees and I was like, ‘Wow. This is amazing.’”
Stillwell’s shot was certainly the most memorable moment of the day. However, it was Cutting’s stellar prowess between the pipes that kept Team Wisconsin — which won its first 16U national title — playing into the fourth overtime.
“I really think he won the game for us, at least two or three times diving across the net and saving pucks, odd-man rushes,” Stillwell said about Cutting. “He was just a brick wall.”
Cutting stopped 33 of 34 shots he faced, but nothing was bigger than his play in the third overtime. With 2:32 left, there was a scrum just to the right of Cutting and Thunderbirds forward Zachary Taylor was camped on the doorstep all alone. The puck squirted over to Taylor, who tried to elevate it, but Cutting made a beautiful glove save.
“I saw a lot of net, let’s put it that way,” Wisconsin coach Luke Strand said. “Cuts is a very competitive young man that finds a way.”
Just two minutes later, Cutting also stoned Zachary Goberis in front to send the game into the fourth overtime.
After already playing 81 minutes heading into the fourth extra session, it was starting to become tough for the players to keep their focus and composure.
“The national title, the adrenaline, that all just kept me in the game,” Cutting said. “I was just in a zone, and I knew I wasn’t going to get scored on.”
Even though his players were exhausted, coach Strand wasn’t worried about his guys wearing down physically.
“For us, the tired time became a mental problem,” Strand said. “We turned over a lot of pucks for a while there. I thought we kept our legs, but we lost our minds. They found a way to regroup.”
The game was scoreless until the second period when Wisconsin’s Kevin Conley scored on a pass from Stillwell at the 10:42 mark. Colorado quickly tied it three minutes later on a goal by Maxwell Gerlach.
Wisconsin and Colorado didn’t face each other during the regular season, but they played on the opening day of the national tournament during pool play with Wisconsin earning a 3-2 victory. It wasn’t quite the epic battle like the championship game.
“It was two teams fighting it out to the end,” Thunderbirds coach Angelo Ricci said. “In a game like this there’s no loser, but there is. You hate to come up on the short side.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.