Relaxed Breakers roll onto National Championship
While waiting to step onto the rink, members of the Breakers were singing their favorite songs out loud and cheering on each of their teammates. It was tough to tell this game was for a spot in the championship.
But Bay State’s relaxed mindset was just part of a winning strategy. The Breakers rolled to a 7-0 victory to advance to Monday’s championship game behind a potent offensive attack.
Bay State head coach Ross Murray credits his team relaxed strategy to his team's close bond.
"Most of this team has played together since they were 8 or 9 years old," Murray said. "They love to be with each other inside and outside of the rink. They've spent a lot of time together."
This semifinal game reflected what has happened for Bay State throughout this year’s tournament. The Breakers’ have tallied at least five goals in all but one of their tournament games thus far.
A lot of the offensive success for Bay State can be credited to the play of the line that features Katherine Pyne, Ashley Clark and Skyler Irving. Coming into Sunday’s game, Pyne led all scorers in this year’s 14U Tournament with six goals and an assist.
Though Pyne didn’t add any goals Sunday, she did have three assists, most of which went to her linemates. Irving added a goal Sunday and Clark led the way with two goals, including a beauty that went top shelf from a tight angle.
“She plays low to the ground. This allows her to get the puck up quickly,” Murray said. “It makes her tough to defend.”
Pyne said after Sunday’s game that the key to her line’s success is finding each other on the ice and making sure each player’s skills are maximized.
“I think we’ve really clicked together,” Pyne said. “We use each other strengths and put them to practice out on the ice.”
Along with this strong group up front, Bay State is able to supplement its strong forward play with defensemen that are capable of putting the puck in the net from a point. Pyne credits this to his team’s extensive work on puckhandling.
Heading into Monday’s game, it’s likely the Breakers will need a strong offensive attack in their game against the Chicago Mission. Murray believes his team will be ready to play.
“We’ve been working hard all year to get to this point. These girls have played in a lot of big games since they’ve started,” Murray said. “They know there’s a chance they may never get an opportunity like this again.”
Tough battles continue as Pens get past defending champion Sabres
With his team clinging to a one-goal lead late in the third period, even Pittsburgh Pens Elite coach Brad Michalski was biting his nails.
For more than two periods, his team and Shattuck-St. Mary’s battled tooth and nail. But in a game decided by inches, the Pens prevailed, defeating the defending national champion Sabres 1-0 to advance to Monday’s 16U Final.
This one-goal nail biter wasn’t the first for Pittsburgh in this year’s tournament. After the Pens won 11-0 in the tournament opener, Pittsburgh has played in three consecutive one-goal battles.
It started with a 1-0 overtime win against Team Wisconsin and continued Saturday when the Pens pulled out a 4-3 shootout victory against the Chicago Mission to advance into Sunday’s semifinal matchup.
For Schall, the number of tough game is hardly surprising to him.
“It’s do or die here every game. You have to win them all,” he said. “Even if you lose a game in pool play, it’s hard to recover and move on.”
The win against Shattuck-St. Mary’s was just as tough as the first two one-goal wins, if not tougher. But Pittsburgh broke through late in the first period with a power-play goal. With the Pens having a two-man advantage, Lauren Bernard put in the eventual game-winner after an extended battle for the puck in front of the net.
From there, Michalski could see his team’s mood change.
“Any time you score first, it’s a huge confidence booster,” Michalski said. “After the goal, it was just a matter of composing ourselves. We knew (Pens goalie) Gwyneth (Philips) would shut the door.”
And that she did. The Pittsburgh netminder went blow for blow with the prestigious Sabres, making 52 saves and earning every little bit of her shutout win.
When asked if he expected his goaltender to shut the door like she did, Schall had no hesitation in expressing confidence in his goaltender.
“She’s been the backbone for us all season. I can’t give her enough credit,” Michalski said.
Along with the strong play of Philips, Michalski has seen a team that is able to stay even-keeled during any moment.
“We just don’t get too emotional,” he said. “I try not to yell or scream, just instruct them on what I think will work best. It’s in our best interest not to get too high or too low.”
It’s easy to expect that Monday’s championship game against Detroit Belle Tire will be just as hotly contested as Pittsburgh’s past three games. But for Philips, she believes the best thing her team can do is stick with what has gotten them this far.
“If we play our game I have absolute faith we can win,” Philips said. “Our coach has confidence in us, we have confidence in us. We just have to continue doing what we do best.”
For the Pens, that formula success seems to be winning close games.
Sabres break through, will play again for 19U championship
With minutes left in the second period of its semifinal matchup against the Mid-Fairfield CT Stars, Shattuck-St. Mary’s found themselves in the midst of a scoring rut.
After being shutout in Saturday’s finale against the Chicago Young Americans, the Sabres were scoreless once again unable to put the puck in the net as the scored was knotted at zero.
Thankfully for Shattuck-St. Mary’s, its luck finally changed. Late in the second period, Maureen Murphy buried a shot near the net to give the Sabres that much-needed goal and a win to send the team back to the 19U Final.
Despite Saturday’s 1-0 shootout loss and the team’s inability to put the puck in the net, Sabres head coach Gordie Stafford didn’t see his team’s lose any confidence. He was more willing to give his opponent’s goaltending credit.
“If you’re around these girls, you know that they wouldn’t be discouraged by the lack of goals,” Stafford said. “Winning isn’t easy. This group knows that and is always determined.”
The lack of scoring is something not commonly seen with the perennial power that is Shattuck-St. Mary’s. The Sabres combined for 11 goals in their first two games. But for Stafford, these close games are much more enjoyable.
“When we win games by five or six goals, it isn’t fun,” Stafford said. “This group embraces the chance to play in close games like this one.”
For three periods, both Shattuck-St. Mary’s and Mid-Fairfield went blow for blow. Both teams had opportunities at even strength and with the man advantage. Unfortunately for the Stars, they couldn’t convert. Shattuck-St. Mary’s goalie Aerin Frankel stopped all 27 shots she faced in the victory.
But despite the trouble they may have faced in their past two games, the Sabres can now look ahead to another shot at another national championship. Shattuck-St. Mary’s won the 2016 Tier I Girls Championship in both 16U and 19U. That means just two Sabres haven’t had the experience of winning it all.
And with a game against the perennial power Chicago Mission on Monday, Stafford’s mantra of “winning isn’t easy” will likely ring true again during the championship matchup against the Chicago Mission.
“These girls are champions,” Stafford said. “They are a resilient group that stays in the moment. I know they will work hard again Monday.”
14U/Chicago Mission 4, East Coast Wizards 1: With the game tied late in the second period, Anna Baxter broke through for the Chicago Mission to give her team a 2-1 lead. Chicago went on to defeat the East Coast Wizards 4-1.
From there, the Mission added onto its lead thanks to goals from Clara Zubor and Margaret Culp. With this win, Chicago will move onto Monday's national championship game against the Bay State Breakers.
16U/Detroit Belle Tire 3, East Coast Wizards 1: In this semifinal matchup, special teams were the name of the game.
Detroit continues its miraculous run to the final. It started with Belle Tire overtaking the No. 1 overall seed, the Boston Jr Eagles, in preliminary round play, and continues with the win over the Wizards, a traditional power.
19U/Chicago Mission 5, California Wave 2: With the score tied at two less than a minute into the third period, the Chicago Mission exploded for three goals in the third period to advance to Monday's final with a 5-2 victory against the California Wave.
After Nicole LaMantia and Jesse Compher scored to put Chicago ahead 2-1, Elizabeth Humphrey knotted the game at 2. Compher then burst onto the scene with three unanswered goals, giving her four goals on the day.