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Mission Accomplished for USA Eagles

By Bill Kiser - Special to, 04/07/16, 1:00PM MDT


Michigan team wins second 3A 14U title in three years at Tier II nationals

Final 1 2 3 T
USA Eagles (MI) 0 3 1 4
St Lawrence Thunder (NY) 0 3 0 3
/ Extreme Ice Center / Main Rink

INDIAN TRAIL, N.C. – The players of Michigan’s 14U USA Eagles made their final game a memorable one Monday at the Extreme Ice Center.

The USA Eagles scored late in the third period, then held off a frantic last-minute rush by the St. Lawrence (New York) Thunder for a 4-3 victory in the 3A final at the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 14U National Championships.

It was the second 14U national championship in three years for the USA Eagles, who won their first 3A title in 2014 in Hackensack, New Jersey.

“It influenced this bunch every day — every day,” USA Eagles head coach Todd Hartje said. “For three years prior to the ‘99s winning [the 2014 title], they practiced together. We’d have joint practices, and we’d keep talking about them.

“We’d tell them, ‘Hey guys, you keep wanting to get your game up; well, that team in front of you is doing it.’ Then when they won the nationals, we were able to say to these guys, ‘You’re right in their footsteps — you’ve got to stay the course, you’ve got to do the hard work, and it’s there.’

“Every day, we talked about it — that [2014 championship] banner is hanging right above their bench during practice.”

Multi-role player Jack Luer scored the game-winning goal for the Eagles, slotting home a cross from forward Parker Williams on a power play with 2 minutes, 25 seconds remaining in the third period.

The power play was set up by a rare Thunder mistake — 15 seconds earlier, they were whistled for having too many players on the ice during a shift change.

The Thunder — which advanced to the 14U Class 3A finals in 2012 and 2013, and lost to the Eagles in the semifinals in 2014 — had killed a power-play opportunity late in the second period.

What Hartje learned from that he used in setting up the play that resulted in Luer’s game winner.

“We were able to get it deep and work it around,” said Luer, who finished with two goals and an assist Monday. “We got it down on the goal line, and I just took that backdoor pass and put it in.”

Yet before Luer’s goal, Monday’s final was very much in doubt, as the game’s momentum swung back and forth.

After a scoreless first period, the two teams erupted offensively in the second period, combining for six goals in battling to a 3-3 tie.

Forward Isaac Testani broke the shutout when he put a shot off USA Eagles goalkeeper Max Miller (aided by assists from Robert Wells and John Collins) with 11:18 left to put the Thunder in the lead.

However, that lead was short-lived. Just 35 seconds later, USA Eagles forward Michael Atto took a feed from Luer and broke free down the left side to score at the 10:43 mark and tie the game.

Another series of back-and-forths ensued after that.

Thunder forward Jacob Brothers scored off Emmanuel Sanchez’s assist with 7:27 left; USA Eagles responded with Luer’s first goal, off an Atto assist with 6:03 remaining.

The USA Eagles then pulled ahead 3-2 on defender Jake Plizga’s goal (assisted by Trevor Tosto and Elle Hartje) with 3:38 left. But the Thunder tied the score again during USA Eagles’ power-play opportunity, getting a short-handed goal from Sanchez (assisted by Stephen Morley) with 1:12 remaining.

The third period had its own ups and downs — until the penalty set up the power play, and Luer took advantage of an out-of-position Thunder goalkeeper to put home the game winner.

“We needed to do this,” Luer said of winning the national title. “We had to follow [the 2014 team], do what they did, and that was carry on their legacy.

“This is our last time together as a team — we’re all going our separate ways — but it was a great way to cap it off.”

Story by Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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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.

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