WAYNE, N.J. -- The Team Wyoming players see each other more often as opponents during the season in the Wyoming Amateur Hockey Association.
As they got together once a month throughout the course of the season, they developed into what became a championship team at the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier II 16U Class 1A National Championships.
Team Wyoming jumped in front early and used a clutch short-handed, breakaway goal from Ryan Welch late in the second period Monday to take the 1A championship from the Oklahoma City Oil Kings, 4-2, at the Ice Vault.
“We play four-five tournaments a year together, about one a month,” Team Wyoming head coach Matthew Sauter said. “At the beginning of the season, we had three or four practice weekends and that’s about it.
“These kids beat each other up the rest of the season.”
One game into his fourth trip as a Team Wyoming coach — two at 14U, two at 16U — Sauter was still winless at nationals.
In his team’s last competition together prior to nationals, in Colorado Springs on Presidents’ Day Weekend, Sauter developed the sense that this year could be different.
“We were 0-3 every year, but last year we were competitive and lost one-goal games,” Sauter said. “The first year, we got blown out; the second year was better.
“This was the first time we ever won a game at nationals.”
Mixing players from his previous teams, with graduates from the 14U team that won a pair of games at nationals last season, Sauter saw camaraderie develop in a situation where it is not always easy.
“A bunch of kids grew to love each other and like each other and trust each other,” Sauter said. “Our motto is about poise and control and keeping your cool, then play and have fun and smile.”
There was a lot to smile about in Monday morning’s final.
Four different players scored goals and James Doyle had two assists as Team Wyoming built a two-game lead three times.
Parker Delong got the scoring started 4:26 into the game when he got off a quick shot from a tough angle along the boards on the left wing on a seemingly harmless play.
“Because we don’t play together all year long, we’re not a pretty team,” Sauter said. “It’s about Wyoming hockey — put the puck to the net, play hard, try to make something happen and hope for the best.
“You can’t score unless you shoot.”
Hunter Peterson, who had 11 of the team’s 19 national tournament goals coming into the final, made it 2-0 with 37 seconds left in the first period on the first of Doyle’s assists.
“He shot it from the blue line and I tipped it,” said Peterson, who was skating by to the goalie’s left. “I didn’t even know it was in the net.”
Oklahoma City cut the lead to a single goal twice in the second period, but Team Wyoming responded each time.
Noah Rakosky broke through for the Oil Kings 25 seconds into the second. Parker Hamann scored for Team Wyoming just after the midway point in the game for a 3-1 lead.
Brig Neuhold scored to cut the deficit to 3-2 and Oklahoma City went on a power play 46 seconds later looking to use the momentum to force a tie.
Instead, two regular-season teammates from Jackson Hole connected to produce the game-breaking, short-handed goal.
Harrison Sauter, the coach’s son, gained possession on the right side in his defensive zone and Welch took off up the left side. Sauter flipped a long pass that Welch chased down for the short-handed, breakaway goal that closed the scoring.
“That is two kids that do play on the same high school team,” coach Sauter said. “They know each other very, very well.
“That was absolutely planned.”
Team Wyoming protected the lead well until some anxious moments after the Oil Kings pulled their goalie with 1:07 left.
Oklahoma City kept the puck in deep for 33 seconds and drew a double minor penalty, setting up a 6-on-4.
Nils Huot made seven of his 22 saves in the final 1:07, turning away a pair of particularly dangerous rebound attempts to get the win in goal.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.