TAYLOR, Mich. — Sunday at the Taylor Sportsplex in Taylor, Michigan, three teams of Michigan girls from the Tier I 14U, 16U and 19U divisions claimed their spots in the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships.
Here are the teams headed to Irvine, California, for nationals, April 4-8.
14U: Little Caesars AAA Hockey Club beats Belle Tire Hockey Club
When the first period ended, it didn’t look like Little Caesars was the favorite to win with Belle Tire up 1-0.
But, five straight goals from Little Caesars — two each from forwards Cassie Hall and Clara Yuhn, and one from forward Kaia Malachino — gave it the 5-1 victory to advance to nationals.
“Belle Tire did a great job of maximizing everything on their end to give us everything that they had,” Little Caesars coach Joe Joseph said. “It was just a hard-fought battle from start to finish. Just a good win.”
The reason for it being a hard-fought win was because of how physical the game was — something Joseph said you don’t “anticipate” from a girls’ hockey game.
“When it gets chippy like that, you kind of have to change your gameplan to protect your kids a little bit,” Joseph said. “It was a different element we don’t necessarily play a lot. For us, it was a different kind of test, and I thought we did a good job of making the adjustments.”
A test that Joseph said will prepare the whole team for a possible national championship run.
“It was to be sure we didn’t do anything to become unhinged and make sure that we finished what we started back in August,” Joseph said. “So, it’s great to see a culmination of the entire season come to the point where you’re successful, and it’s not one or two players — it’s a legitimate full 16 kids and everybody’s involved.
“Obviously, we’re not finished to what we set out to do, but [the championship win] is a great step towards that direction.”
16U: Belle Tire pulls away late in second game after overtime loss in first
After a scoreless first period, Belle Tire defender Annabelle Scriver put her team up 1-0 1:28 into the second period — the first of three goals in Belle Tire’s eventual 3-0 win over Little Caesars, after falling 1-0 in overtime earlier Sunday.
And it was an unassisted goal she didn’t think was going to go in which brought out the emotions.
“It was so exhilarating, it was so exciting — it was honestly surprising too,” Scriver said. “It was like a flutter in. So it was interesting, for sure.”
After Scriver’s flutter, Belle Tire hit two empty net goals in the third period — the first by forward Lily Wisniewski 14:58 into the third and the second by forward Celesta Paolucci — while goalie Jillian Petruno helped keep Little Caesars scoreless.
“Jillian Petruno played great all weekend,” Belle Tire coach Dave Erwin said. “So, that helps. But the kids just stuck to the gameplan. We talked about being patient, playing a simple game. If we can play that kind of style, it’ll eventually pay off. And the kids did that. They stepped it up.”
19U: Belle Tire takes care of Meijer AAA Hockey
Before the 16U Belle Tire team advanced to nationals, the 19U team punched its ticket Sunday afternoon, beating Meijer 9-2.
This is the third straight year that Belle Tire has been Michigan District champions under coach Mike Vigilante. He also led Belle Tire to national runner-up in 2018.