LANSING, Mich. -- It’s often said that a team’s best players show their true character in the face of adversity.
That pretty much explains Katie Puumala of the Assabet Red.
Puumala’s shorthanded overtime goal just one minute into extra time gave the Red the Toyota-USA Hockey Girls Tier II 14U National Championships title Monday morning at Suburban Ice with a 2-1 win over the Amherst Knights.
She also tallied the tying goal for Assabet at 9:47 of the third period after Kaylee Conover gave the Knights a 1-0 lead 22 seconds into the second period on an Amherst power play.
“It’s amazing,” said Assabet coach Mike Houlihan. “It’s surreal. When we put this team together back in August and September, we were a green team and, to be honest, I was worried how we were going to come out at the end of things because we had a couple of kids at our age level that moved up an age level. Those kids would have been big stars for us, but we had tremendous leadership out of our second-year kids that brought the younger kids up to their level.”
On the game-winner, Caroline Werner took a shot from the point. Both Puumala and Amherst goalie Jenna Lukomski went for the puck, and Puumala got the most of it. Their sticks smacked against one another and the puck went up and over Lukomski and fell just across the goal line.
“One of the things we were actually trying to do [in overtime] was create some offense on the 5-on-4,” Houlihan said. “We knew we had the momentum, so we were trying to tell the girls that if we could chip the puck out and angle it off the boards that we could get a break. Again, it was our second-year kids that stepped up and had a great forecheck going on that penalty kill and we were able to get possession of the puck.
“It was a bit of a fluke goal, but hockey is a game of who’s going to get one more bounce and we got it.”
Amherst actually controlled the game and pinned the puck down in the Assabet end for the better part of the game’s first four minutes. And even when Rachel Juneau went off for hooking at the 8:06 mark, Knights’ goalie Jenna Lukomski made two brilliant pad stops from in tight.
Assabet goalie Kirsten DiCicco was also equal to the task in stoning Emma Faso on a partial breakaway three minutes into the third period.
Knights’ coach John Gaffney, even after a stunning defeat, showed a sense of pride in his team — a squad that is “a family” and all but two players “can ride their bicycles to the rink for practice,” according to Gaffney.
“Honestly, we truly exceeded our expectations,” Gaffney said. “This team is what I would call a legitimate homegrown team. We don’t have a regional plan or affiliation — all these girls go to school together, play high school hockey together, they stay together.”
Houlihan added that coming from Massachusetts, his team hardly had a home-ice advantage, but all that changed Sunday night in the semifinals against the Kensington Valley Ravens (a 4-3 double overtime win) as the Cape Cod Storm U14 team (the same team that Assabet beat in the state championship game earlier this season) came and watched the game and cheered for their in-state rivals.
“That was one of the greatest displays of sportsmanship,” Houlihan said. “Kensington has a huge fan base here in Michigan. Going into the second overtime, the Cape Cod team made a line for us to walk through and slap hands. That gave us a life that we needed.”
And it seemingly carried over to Monday morning where overtime again went the way of the Red.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.