WAYNE, N.J. – As Jacob Helzer rushed up ice carrying the puck, he was careful not to hurry any decisions.
Sprung free on the left side for a 2-on-1 in overtime, Helzer moved toward the goal. His decision on what to do next could wait.
“You can’t just get blinders on and focus on shooting or focus on passing,” Oakland (Mich.) Junior Grizzlies coach Jason Selleke said. “That’s the way we teach it.”
Helzer’s patience forced the Chesterfield (Mo.) Falcons defenseman to commit first and allowed Helzer to slide a pass across to defenseman Michael Ellis, who scored the game-winning goal exactly 10 minutes into overtime, lifting the Grizzlies to a 2-1 victory in the Class 3A title game of the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U National Championships at the Ice Vault.
“I was just looking at the defenseman and playing off him,” Helzer said. “If he was taking [Ellis], I was going to shoot; but if not, I would pass it over.
“He took away my shot, so I slid it over. I just went with the flow. That’s what he gave me.”
When the Grizzlies got the puck out of their zone and up to Helzer, Ellis saw the opening and jumped at the opportunity.
“A couple of their forwards stayed up, so I knew I had a cushion,” Ellis said. “I saw Helzer coming up with the puck and nobody was watching backdoor, so I just went there for a one-timer.”
Ellis had plenty of net to work with and roofed the shot to the short side.
“The kid made a great pass,” Selleke said. “The other boy, Mike Ellis: no mistakes. He finished it.
“It was an exciting moment.”
It was one of many.
Grizzlies goalie Brendan Gilhooley stopped a breakaway in the final minute to preserve the regulation tie, then the teams went at it in overtime, combining for 17 shots in 10 minutes.
“These are the best two teams in the nation, and that’s what you’re going to expect out of this game, especially in a high-pressure game, such as the national championship,” said Gilhooley, who was in goal when the Grizzlies fell in the national 12U quarterfinals in 2012.
Selleke said that was the way he wanted his team to play in overtime. After the teams matched 30 shots each in regulation, the Grizzlies had a 10-7 edge in extra time.
“We went in with the mindset of, ‘Let’s try to win it. Let’s not sit back and try to not lose it,’ ” Selleke said. “I think they did too. They were going forward. Both teams’ D were jumping into plays, which is why you were getting the odd-man rushes, because you have such active D on both teams.”
Both teams came into the final with 5-0 records, having gone 3-0 in pool play, then adding quarterfinal and semifinal wins Sunday when they played twice.
Despite their attacking styles, each team also had enough skill in goal and on defense to keep the other to one score for more than 60 minutes.
Trevor LaBash’s breakaway put Oakland in front, but Eric Brown answered on an assist from Owen Benben.
“It was two evenly matched teams,” Selleke said. “They have a great team and kind of played a similar style. They played hard right from the get-go, and we played hard. It’s a long tournament.”
Not much separated the two teams.
“It’s a game of bounces,” Selleke said. “It was a dead-even game. Our goalie played great, kept giving us a chance. We had our chances, too.
“You need bounces, you need some luck and, in the end, we made a great play to win it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.