STRONGSVILLE, Ohio — There’s one thing for certain, the 18U Esmark Stars didn’t take the easy route while capturing the USA Hockey Mid-American District Tournament title and advancing to the Chipotle-USA Hockey Tier I 18U National Championships April 3-8 in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Each of the Stars’ four contests during the district tournament were decided by a one-goal margin and three of the four were decided by either a shootout or overtime.
Esmark clinched the championship on a game-winning goal scored by Gregory Ferri with 15:46 on the clock in overtime against Culver Academy.
“They never quit, and we had all types of scenarios,” said Esmark coach Dave Kosick. “We won our first game in the last two minutes of regulation, our second game we won in a shootout and our third game in overtime and then this game. I am proud of my guys.”
Kosick noted that this resilient attitude has been a part of the team’s character throughout the 2018-19 season.
“They never quit … ever, all season long. Their record shows this and this wasn’t a fluke. We’re a competitive team going to nationals and we plan to make a statement there.”
Taking advantage of a power play opportunity early in the opening period of play in the championship match, Anton Kozitskiy netted a puck less than four minutes into contest.
Raman Yerameichyk and Lane Ruffner assisted on the power-play goal.
“Big power-play goal early in the game that gives us a chance,” assessed Kosick.
Culver mounted a ferocious effort in the second period, resulting in a game-tying goal with just over four minutes remaining in the period.
“Culver threw everything and the kitchen sink at us in the second period and tied it up and I thought the third period was a good, even hockey game,” Kosick said. “If you’re a fan, you got your money’s worth.”
Heading into the final period of regulation, Kosick had a level of confidence in his team, stating, “Going into the third period we knew Culver threw their best at us in the second period. They really came at us hard. I felt very confident we had weathered a storm. We worked all season long and it was winner-take-all.”
Neither team could settle the contest in the final period, and it was on to overtime for the second game in a row for Esmark.
Four minutes and 14 seconds later, the puck was in the Culver net.
“You see the notion of get a puck to the net. The game-winning goal wasn’t a thing of beauty. It was get a puck to the net and it goes off a skate and goes into the net,” Kosick said.
Goaltender Parker Rey stopped an impressive 40 of 41 shots faced in the championship game.
“[Rey] played awesome. His numbers speak for themselves. He gave us a chance to win. He saw the puck and managed the flow in front,” Kosick said.
“You work all season long for this. You practice together, you sweat together, you bleed together, you cry together, and you try to create an opportunity. The hockey gods showed up today and smiled upon us,” said Kosick.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.