LANSING, Mich. -- It was only fitting that Tom Petty’s “Running Down A Dream” was the song of choice during the third period of the Toyota-USA Hockey Girls Tier II 16U National Championships title game Monday afternoon between the East Coast Wizards and Team Alaska.
After all, both teams were chasing a dream, but in the end, just one held the trophy aloft as the Wizards’ Morgan Griffin scored early in the second and then Carmen Braceras netted the game-winner at 6:55 of the third period for a 2-1 win at Suburban Ice.
Wizards’ coach Mark Lissner found himself at a loss for words and let tears of happiness flow after the game.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Lissner said. “I’ve coached so many of these girls before, and we lost four years ago in overtime in the finals and then two years ago we lost in the semifinals with 9.7 seconds left in a 5-on-3 situation. There are nine girls that were on this team in Anaheim and 10 or 11 that were in San Jose and … they’re all just better people than they are hockey players. This will be the last time I’ll be with most of them, and they’re some of my favorite people in the world.”
Seven players for the Wizards have played for Lissner and gone to the national tournament all three times.
Alaska opened the title game by taking a 1-0 lead on a Jaden Trboyevich goal late in the first period, but that would be the lone goal Wizards’ goalie Cassidy Smith allowed.
Alaska coach Shawn Lundgren said after the game that even with a 4,000-mile trek back home to Alaska, there is no reason to be somber.
“Obviously, we were very pleased and had some success going through the round robin,” he said. “We wanted to get the highest seed that we possibly could, and I was very pleased with the girls’ work ethic and effort and, obviously, we had some success doing that. There were some games where we were put to the test, and I thought the girls just kept working through it and getting the bounces to put ourselves in the situation where we were able to play here in this game.”
The Alaskan team is made up of players from Fairbanks and Anchorage, cities roughly 365 miles apart, but brought together by one common goal this year — getting to Lansing.
“The girls closed that gap for sure, and it’s like we’re neighbors,” Lundgren said. “Unfortunately, we’re going to have one flight go a little bit farther north than the other, but we’ll get together and look back and reflect and, hopefully, feel good about what we’ve done this season.”
Team Alaska goalie Gabrielle Gibson finished with 21 saves, while Smith posted 17 for the win in the East Coast net.
And yet, coming from behind in Lansing seemed to be a trend for the Wizards. Against the Vermont Shamrocks on Friday, the Wizards killed off a major penalty late in the third, and then after being called for a penalty again in overtime, scored shorthanded to get the 3-2 win. And then Sunday against the New England Junior Falcons, the Wizards trailed 4-2 with 10 minutes left in regulation and came back to win 5-4.
“I’m proudest of the way we handled adversity throughout the tournament,” Lissner said. “That was one of the things when we lost in San Jose — I didn’t think the girls kept their composure. To see them grow up and really throughout the whole thing, they never lost their cool and were always in it.”
And in the end, the Wizards ran down the dream.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.