TROY, Mich. -- Talk about adversity: The Portland Jr. Pirates certainly had their share during the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 18U National Championships. Yet through it all — and in dramatic style — they beat the Charlotte Checkers 3-2 in overtime to claim the Class A national title Monday at the Troy Sports Center in Michigan.
To begin with, at the start of the nationals, the team was shocked to find out that it had a new head coach, with Jeff Tory taking over for Alfie Michaud.
If that wasn’t enough to shake them up, the Pirates fell behind 2-0 to the Checkers in the championship game before starting a comeback rally — scoring the tying goal with just 13 seconds left in regulation and then winning the national title in overtime.
“Obviously it was a little different, taking over the team as the new head coach at maybe an inappropriate time,” said Tory, laughing after the game. “I knew some of these guys and coached them as an assistant coach at another level of the organization. So it really was not a huge change as everyone might think.”
Still a new head coach with different ideas could be enough to throw them from their focus and their game. Tory made efforts to avoid any turmoil.
“I did not make a lot of changes, built on what we have been doing all year long,” he said. “A couple minor things here and there, based on what the other team was doing.”
Portland went 3-0 during the round robin and seemed to be getting stronger as the tournament went on. The Pirates had no trouble in their quarterfinal win, putting a hurt on the Atlanta Phoenix 9-2, and continued to roll in the semifinals as they blanked the TVHA (Idaho) Hawks 7-0.
Tory felt the off-ice program the Pirates used during the year was a big factor in their success.
“We seemed to get stronger as the games went on,” Tory said. “Our off-ice program made us stronger and prepared us to endure a long hockey season and the fact that we continued to roll four lines, gave everybody on our team enough rest and avoiding fatigue.”
Chase Wright got the Checkers off to a good start, scoring an unassisted goal at 8:24 of the first period.
The game remained 1-0 until the third period, when Ben Crotty put Charlotte up 2-0 early on, with Shane Clapper assisting. It looked like a strong enough lead with goaltender Tanner Bain stopping 17 shots through the first two periods.
But Portland had other ideas and managed to break the goose egg. Matthew Brooks got the first of his two goals at the 6:12 mark. Patrick Daniels drew the first of two assists, along with Carsten Kocek.
With 17 seconds to play, the Checkers were called for a tripping minor penalty, and just five seconds later, Kyle Woodruff scored the equalizer on the power play, with Daniels and Jordan Tracy getting the assists.
Brooks won it at the 12:53 mark.
“I used my speed to beat their d-man, which set up a 2-on-1 break,” Brooks explained to the throng of reporters around him. “I just sent a hard wrist shot and it hit the top right hand corner of the net.”
From there it was jubilation as the Pirates stormed off the bench to swarm Brooks in celebration.
After the hugging had ended and the medals were handed out, Tory praised Charlotte.
“They played a real hard game,” he said. “They were very tough and jammed us up. They should be very proud of the game they played and we are just fortunate to have won the game.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.