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.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Two months from now, the St. Louis Blues hope to experience the thrill of winning the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time.
What happened Sunday for the Chesterfield Falcons is the equivalent of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup for an 18-year-old. Bringing another youth hockey championship to this St. Louis suburb never gets old.
The Falcons scored a late third-period goal to widen its advantage and beat the Florida Junior Panthers 3-1 in the USA Hockey Tier IIAA 18-and-Under National Championships title game at Suburban Ice Arena. The game was one of three championship matches played here on Sunday as part of the Tier II 18U championships.
It was the third time in five years that Chesterfield, which is the top-ranked 18U program in the country regardless of class or conference, won a national championship at the 18U level. All of the titles have happened in even-numbered years (2008, 2010 and this year).
[y tii 18 2a champs] “This team is typically about 90 percent new every year, maybe with four or five returning players,” Chesterfield coach Lindsay Middlebrook said. “It takes a little pressure off of having to repeat given we seem to win it every other year.”
All kidding aside, Middlebrook said the secret to the team has been how well the team has come together.
“We’ve been in one of the best Double-A hockey leagues now [Central States] for five or six years, and this year we had a really good team,” he said.
Chesterfield shut out the West Haven (Conn.) Blue Devils 6-0 in the first game before losing 2-1 to Florida in the second game of pool play. The Falcons then beat the Tri-Cities (Wash.) Junior Americans 6-1 in the final pool game before blasting the Mission (Ariz.) Ice 9-2 in the quarterfinals and edging the Richmond (Mo.) Royals 4-3 in the semifinals.
It was that loss to Florida that stuck with Nicholas Fontana. He thought about that loss as he notched the late third-period goal, off a pass from Jacob Kaufman and Nicolas Brocksmith. The shot just eluded the stick of Florida goalie Austin Luboff.
“Earlier in the year we beat Florida in two games but we lost to them here,” Fontana said. “We knew coming in that they’d play us hard, and we knew we had a big bench and could go deeper into the lineup than they could. We ended up shutting them down.”
The shot was in a perfect position for Fontana.
“I was on a long shift, and I was forechecking and I saw the puck come around the boards and I thought I’d dump it off to a teammate,” Fontana said. “Then I was already down there so I figured I might as well take the shot. We’ve talked about getting in front of the net and screening the goalie so we could get a shot, and I just had the chance.”
Florida started with a 2-1 overtime win over the South Central (Alaska) Wolves, beat Chesterfield and the Pro Ambitions Nashua (N.H.) Panther Elites 3-1 in the next pool games, and then topped Team Michiana 4-2 in quarterfinal action. In the final four Florida needed overtime for a 3-2 win over the Metro Maple Leafs.
The majority of the Florida team has not been together for years. That said, Florida coach Dana Bengston said the players did a good job of meshing together in a short time.
“As a team we got an at-large bid and we were invited to the tournament because of what we had done during the regular season,” Bengston said. “To come here as an invite to the tournament and make it to the finals… against the number one team in the country… we managed to beat the top team in round robin and it was a close game. For our kids to compete and beat them once shows a lot for the character of this team.
“These are kids who have chosen to stay in Florida and are involved in other things yet still want to play some hockey.”
Florida lost to the Junior Everblades in the state finals. The Everblades were eliminated in pool play and did not reach the quarterfinals.
Prior to Fontana’s late goal, Florida took a 1-0 lead with 5:39 to go in the first period on a Freddy Kasten power-play goal, with the assist provided by Bryan Kubota.
Chesterfield tied the score at 1-1 on a goal by Mark Jones, with assists by Wilder Politte and Jacob Kaufman, with 2:17 to go in the second period.
The score stayed tied until the third period. With 8:17 remaining Daniel Warnecke scored off assists by Nicholas Walters and Callahan Heimos, and Fontana tacked on the insurance marker.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.