SALT LAKE CITY -- The Oakland (Mich.) Jr. Grizzlies know how to celebrate.
Especially forward Chris Gilbert.
At the conclusion of Monday’s 4-1 victory against the Steel City (Penn.) Ice Renegades, Gilbert fell on the ice to make snow angels, then later sped around the rink and stopped short right in front of an assistant coach, showering him with ice.
“He’s a piece of work, that’s for sure,” Grizzlies coach Jason Selleke said.
Gilbert scored two goals as the Grizzlies dominated Steel City in the AAA championship game of the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 14U National Championships on Monday at the Olympic Oval.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Gilbert said. “I’m proud of all these boys. We worked hard all year. Our goal from the beginning of the year, back when we started, was state champions and national champions. We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The Grizzlies had three strong offensive attacks early in the game and finally scored at the 6:10 mark of the first period. Gilbert’s pass connected with an open Colton Markiewicz on the right wing, and Markiewicz found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Steel City evened things up less than a minute later. Cameron Wycich controlled a loose puck and bounced it past the Grizzlies goalie, and the score was tied at 1-all with 5:27 to play in the first period.
From that point on, Oakland dominated by relentlessly attacking the Steel City scoring zone.
“We came out with a quick start,” Selleke said. “We threw pucks to the net, and that’s our thing. We have a really strong forecheck, so we come hard. We’ve got three-and-a half lines that we keep rolling and everybody works. Everybody’s a good hockey player, and there’s not a weaknesses throughout the team.”
A hooking penalty on Steel City gave the Grizzlies a power play opportunity, and it took just two minutes for them to strike. Julian Graziani demonstrated some serious stick moves and flicked a wrister into the net for a score and a 2-1 Oakland lead with 3:35 to play in the first.
The second period was dominated by Oakland, which outshot Steel City 19-1. Gilbert scored both goals in the period. The first was a quick stick on a deflection from a shot that bounced off the Steel City goalie’s pads at the 12:31 mark for a 3-1 lead. Gilbert struck again with 5:01 to play in the second, beating two defenders and crashing into a third while backhanding a shot into the net.
“We just played our system,” Gilbert said. “We kept it high because they were flying a guy at us. We intercepted pucks and we took shots. We just battled it out. We played well on our own end, and our two goalies played great.”
The third period went scoreless and Oakland smothered Steel City’s only real scoring threat, killing a penalty effectively early on.
“We had a goal in mind all year,” Selleke said. “We won state this year, and we had a target on our back, in Michigan especially. We played a pretty tough schedule coming out here, and to get out of Michigan was just a blessing. The boys wanted it. They’re a tight group of kids. They’ve been together a couple of years now. They’re just a bunch of good, coachable kids. They all had a common goal and they showed up today, for sure.”
Gilbert said the competitive state competition in Michigan helped the Grizzlies prepare well for nationals.
“It was a hard fight against our two rivals,” Gilbert said. “We won in overtime against Rochester in districts, and we had a close win in the semis against Birmingham. Every team that makes nationals is good. Every state champion is good. We were one of the lucky teams to come to nationals, but it wasn’t easy.
“We didn’t walk through everybody, we had to go through them.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.