INDIAN TRAIL, N.C. -- Last year, the Seattle SnoKing Junior Thunderbirds came close to their first national title.
This year, the Junior Thunderbirds will bring the big prize back home to Washington.
The Junior Thunderbirds shut out the Wonderland (Connecticut) Wizards 9-0 to win their first-ever 2A title at the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 14U National Championships.
More than half of this year’s team played on the Junior Thunderbirds team that finished third in last year’s nationals, something that stuck with the returnees, according to head coach Lloyd Shaw.
“We had 10 kids last year on that team that came back to play this year,” Shaw said. “Last year, we didn’t expect to make it out of the round robin, having all those first-year kids. We were just happy to be there.
“But our goal [this year] was to come here and win. We knew what it was like from last year, and we knew the caliber of hockey to expect. That was the goal — the kids wanted to win.”
And win they did, in dominating fashion.
The Junior Thunderbirds controlled both ends at the Extreme Ice Center’s main rink, taking a 4-0 lead at the end of the first period while recording their third shutout of nationals.
By the time the final horn sounded, seven different players had scored goals for the Junior Thunderbirds, and seven had assists as they improved their tournament scoring mark to 46 total goals in six games.
“We just work together as a team,” said forward Eric Prigodich, who had two goals for the Junior Thunderbirds on Monday. “We stuck to our game plan, and did everything we could.
“Everything we did this year was to come here and do better than last year, and get the gold. For a lot of the guys, this is our last year [at 14U], so we wanted to make it our best.”
Forward Matthew Butson also had two goals for the Junior Thunderbirds, with five other players — forwards Miles Seguin, Alonza Colburn, Cole Dubicki and J.T. Rimorin, and defenseman Nico DeVita — scoring one goal each.
Defenseman Landen Shaw had three assists, forwards Tom Yang and Rafael Osuna had two assists apiece, and Seguin, Dubicki, Rimorin and defenseman Dexter Conley each added an assist.
“The kids buy into a system, and we don’t play a fancy game,” Shaw said. “All of our goals were scored when the kids were working the puck down low, working their defensemen down low and taking it to the net.
“We haven’t had one kid dominate a game and be that consistent scorer — it’s spread out amongst all the kids. That’s kinda nice, because I can throw any of our forwards on the ice at any time, and they all play the same.”
The only real chance the Wizards had at scoring came on their power play opportunities — four in all. But the Junior Thunderbirds killed all four chances by keeping the puck on the Wizards’ end of the rink.
“Their gap control is amazing — our forwards couldn’t do anything,” Wizards head coach Carl Larouche said. “They had a stick on the puck at all times, they were playing the body very well and moved us to the outside. Our guys just couldn’t do anything except dump the puck and chase it, and hope they got a lucky break.
“In watching them, I knew it was going to be a tough, physical game. They were just too strong for us. We were trying to keep the game close, but the fact they scored right away, it changed the game a little bit.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.