GATES MILLS, Ohio – Sophomore Bryan Widdis’ goal with less than six minutes remaining in the third period proved to be the difference in leading the Bayard Rustin (Pennsylvania) Knights to a 4-3 victory over the Santa Margarita (California) Eagles in the Pure Division championship of the 2017 USA Hockey High School National Championships at Gilmour Arena.
“The puck was in front of the net and a bunch of guys were jamming at it,” explained Widdis. “I took a final swing and it went in. It was awesome.”
Widdis’ game-winning effort halted a furious comeback effort by Santa Margarita in the game’s final period.
The Eagles tallied the first goal of the contest in the opening period on a short-handed effort off the stick of Jesse Orsini 15 seconds after Santa Margarita was whistled for a five-minute major.
Undaunted, the Knights took advantage of the extended power play, netting a pair of goals with the extra man as the first period concluded.
Earning those Bayard Rustin goals were Cade Penney and Ian Strasinski.
The Knights scored another special-teams goal in the middle frame, this time a short-handed goal by Thomas Sloan off a rebound, the only goal of the second period.
Trailing 3-1 entering the third, the Eagles soared to a quick power-play goal, scored by Ryan Johnson in the initial three minutes of the final period and then tied the contest just over a minute later when Jonathan Skule found the back of the Rustin net.
Widdis’ game-winning goal would come later in that final period.
Earlier in the tournament, Santa Margarita defeated Bayard in pool play and Knights head coach Nick Russo, in preparing for the rematch, reminded his team of the story of David and Goliath during his pregame talk with the team.
Prophetically, Russo had referenced Widdis as David during the talk.
“I said that Bryan would be the size of David back in those days and doesn’t he score the game-winner?” mused Russo.
“[Santa Margarita] were the bigger guys, the stronger guys. We were the underdogs. We knew we were going to get out-muscled and had to play with a lot of heart,” Russo said. “We played some pretty big fish this year, but that was the biggest.”
Bayard Rustin goaltender Jason Grande stopped 37 of 40 shots in the title game and was 4-1 throughout the tournament.
“I just tried to keep it simple, track the puck well and keep the rebounds out,” said Grande. “This is unreal and a really cool experience.”
“Jason has been our backbone. We’re four-time state champs for a reason, and that’s him,” said Russo. “The thing about Jason is it’s not just his play on the ice. He is one of the most (high-)character individuals you will meet in your life.”
Another sophomore, Matt Owens, led the Knights in scoring throughout the tournament, accumulating eight points (6G, 2A).
“I felt I had the hot hand and we knew we had to bring it,” said Owens. “I am glad our seniors got to go out this way.”
“[Matt] is just one of those very special players. He just kicks it into an extra gear and not too many players have that,” Russo said.
Overall, Russo described his team’s USA Hockey national tournament experience as “magical” and noted the efforts of the tournament’s organizers as “spot-on.”
While reflecting upon his team finishing second in the tournament, Santa Margarita head coach (and 1994 U.S. Olympian) Craig Johnson said, “I thought we played well throughout the tournament. We struggled at the start of this game. I think we sat back a little bit and that wasn’t the way we wanted to start. I give them [Rustin] a lot of credit. They executed when they had to.”
“We’re going to learn from [the defeat]. It’s about just moving forward and learning the work ethic and learning that you get what you work for, not what you wish for,” Johnson said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
|Youth Tier I (14U)||Scottsdale, Arizona||Arizona Amateur Hockey||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier I (15-year-olds only)||Scottsdale, Arizona||Arizona Amateur Hockey||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier I (16U, 18U)||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania||Pittsburgh Penguins Elite||April 6-10, 2017|
|Girls Tier I||Rochester/Macomb, Michigan||HoneyBaked Hockey Club||April 6-10, 2017|
|Women's A, B, C||Rochester/Macomb, Michigan||HoneyBaked Hockey Club||April 6-9, 2017|
|High School||Cleveland, Ohio||Cleveland Suburban Hockey||March 22-26, 2017|
|Girls Tier II||Troy, Michigan||Troy Youth Hockey Association||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier II (14U)||Coral Springs, Florida||Florida Panthers Ice Den||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier II (16U)||Frisco, Texas||Texas Amateur Hockey||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier II (18U)||Lansing, Michigan||Lansing Hockey Club||April 6-10, 2017|
|Sled||San Jose, California||Sharks Ice||April 6-9, 2017|
|Adult Rec Men's||Wesley Chapel, Florida||Florida Hospital Center Ice||April 20-23, 2017|
|Adult Rec Women's||Ellenton, Florida||Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex||April 27-30, 2017|