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.
The Dorchester Chiefs won a hard-fought USA Hockey National Championship, beating the Hollydell Hurricanes 3-2 to win the Tier II 18 & Under Conference 4A title game on Sunday in Rochester, N.Y.
Dorchester was challenged throughout the National Tournament. Five of the Chiefs’ six games were decided by two goals or fewer. In fact, the only game with a comfortable margin was their tournament-opening 7-2 victory over Hollydell, which played Dorchester much closer in the rematch.
Dorchester built a 3-0 lead after two periods, then held on to survive a Hollydell rally. The Hurricanes scored twice in the final nine minutes, including a goal that cut the margin to one with 35.9 seconds remaining.
Dorchester killed four of five penalties in the final 10:22 and Chiefs goalie Sal Tecci stopped a half dozen shots in a furious final minute of play.
“That last minute,” said Tecci, shaking his head in disbelief. “The goal they got with 30 seconds left, I didn’t even see it. I was screened on the play.”
“Then, after that, they were just all over us,” continued Tecci. “I just did my best to stop everything. Then, with about five seconds left, someone had the puck and got wide open right in front of me. My heart just stopped. Somehow, I just managed to get a glove on it.”
“You’d much rather see the puck down at the other end, I’ll tell you that,” Dorchester coach Ross Pasquantonio said. “All of us were holding our collective breath on the bench, watching the clock. There’s nothing else you can do.”
“It’s typical of them, taking it to the last minute and putting everyone on edge,” Pasquantonio continued.
The game didn’t start off as a nail-biter. Dorchester scored twice in the first three minutes of the game and seemed on track to match their comfortable win over Hollydell in the tournament opener.
Mike Lopez started the scoring 1:32 into the game with a goal from Nick Bligh. It was Lopez’s fifth goal of Nationals. Combined with his team-leading eight assists, Lopez ended up as the leading scorer for the Chiefs. Bligh recorded his seventh assist of the tournament, good for second on Dorchester.
A minute and 18 seconds later, Joe Dipietro scored his first goal of Nationals, helped by Mike Sullivan’s first assist.
In the second period, Dipietro fed Sullivan to give Dorchester a 3-0 lead. It was Sullivan’s fifth goal and Dipietro’s second assist.
The offensive show was a surprise for Dorchester, who depended on a small group of players for most of the tournament.
“We basically played the whole tournament with two lines,” Pasquantonio said.
The Chiefs got 25 of their 28 goals from five players and 32 of their 40 assists from six.
Part of the reason the Chiefs went a little deeper into their bench in the title game was their late night in the semifinals.
“The game lasted until 12:30 (Saturday) night,” Tecci said. “We went to overtime. We didn’t get to bed until about 2:30.”
“It was just a lucky break that we didn’t get a 10 a.m. start today,” Pasquantonio said of the team’s 1 p.m. start, the last of the four championship games played on Sunday.
One area where Dorchester didn’t go deep into the depth chart was between the pipes. Tecci played every minute of all six games, making Dorchester the only team in the finals not to use their backup netminder at any point in the tournament.
“I was brought in to be the main goalie,” Tecci said with a shrug, “but yeah, I guess I’m pretty beat. I saw a lot of shots.”
Tecci stopped an eye-popping 190 shots, including 34 in the championship game.
“Sal was the backbone of our team,” Pasquantonio said. “We needed him in order to get where we are. He’s the best I’ve ever coached. He has a bright future.”
Hollydell made things interesting in the third period as Dorchester seemed to show signs of a tough six days of hockey. Mike Schwer scored with 8:40 remaining in the game for his first tally of the tournament. Christopher Carnivale assisted.
Kevin Kiehner added the goal in the final minute that set up the frantic ending. It was his first goal of Nationals. James Privito contributed his team-leading fifth assist.
Dorchester was unbeaten on their way to the title game. After beating Hollydell in the opener, they beat Mt. Clemens 4-2 and Clifton Park 6-4.
In the quarterfinals, Dorchester took out Team Toledo 6-4, then beat the Northwest Chargers in a marathon game Saturday night.
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.