PLANO, Texas -- When Joey Tabbi flipped the puck two-thirds of the way down the ice and into an empty net Monday, the collective sigh of relief from the St. Clair Shores (Mich.) Saints and their fans seemed likely to lift the building
The Hyland Hills Jaguars had been staying far too close for the Saints’ comfort. Tabbi’s trifecta goal — unassisted, shorthanded, empty net — with 50 seconds left slammed the door on the team from Colorado.
St. Clair Shores held the 4-1 lead to win the Saints’ first title in the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16AAA National Championships.
“That was pretty much the backbreaker,” Tabbi said. The goal was his second of the game at the Dr. Pepper Starcenter-Plano and ninth in the six-game tournament.
“It’s never fun when you have only a two-goal lead,” Saints coach Matt Romaniski said. “They say that’s the hardest lead to defend.
“Then when we took a penalty, they pulled their goalie, so they were skating 6-on-4 and I was getting a little nervous.”
Hyland Hills, also looking for its first national championship, outshot St. Clair Shores 34-26. Saints goalie Robert Kowalczyk came up big with 33 saves.
The Jaguars’ penalty killers stopped all five St. Clair Shores power plays, but then Hyland Hills gave up the clinching goal on their own power play. For the tournament, the Jaguars were a perfect 28-for-28 on the penalty kill.
Tabbi and Noah Cyr scored the game’s first two goals to give St. Clair Shores a 2-0 lead in the second period. Danny Taggart pulled Hyland Hills within a goal at 2-1, but Tabbi set up Kevin Maddox for a 3-1 lead entering the third.
“Our captain, Joey Tabbi, has been just terrific,” Romaniski said. “He’s done a little of everything, power play, penalty killing. He’s been determined. He wanted this. It’s nice to see.”
Tabbi, who switched from roller hockey to ice hockey four years ago, was modest.
“My line helps me a lot,” he said. “If it weren’t for those guys, I wouldn’t score as much.
“Our defense is strong. They backcheck and get pucks deep for us. It’s a tight group of kids. I’ve been with them for two hard years, practicing three days a week year-round.”
As nationals started, it wasn’t clear that the Saints could reach the final. They lost their first game 2-1 to another team called Jaguars, from New Jersey.
“In the first game, we came out and had some success but just couldn’t score,” Romaniski said. “We weren’t supporting each other.
“We had a team meeting with the boys at the hotel. I was confident we could bring our level up to our ability and believed we would win the tournament.”
After that, the Saints had a scare from the South Shore Kings from Massachusetts but allowed only one goal in each of the three games that followed.
In the semifinal game against Team Toledo and the final vs. Hyland Hills, St. Clair Shores was playing teams it had met during this season.
“Between our state tournament and the nationals, they beat us in Toledo. We saw Colorado earlier too,” Romaniski said. “We had seen them, so we knew what to expect and put together a game plan.”
In the 5-1 semifinal victory, Tabbi also had two goals and an assist, and Kowalczyk made 25 saves.
“I thought we played really well in the semifinals against Toledo,” Romaniski said, and added, “in both games at the end of the tournament. Today I think both teams were tired, and the pace wasn’t as fast in our third game in 24 hours.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.