WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — Coach Matt Thomas will be the first to tell anyone that beating a team five times in a row can be a daunting task, especially if the final game is extended to overtime and takes place in the Youth Tier I 18U championship game of the USA Hockey Southeastern District Tournament.
That is exactly what happened on Sunday at AdventHeath Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Florida. The Washington Little Capitals scored a power-play goal in the waning minutes of overtime to edge the Southern Thunder 2-1 in the championship game. That gives the Caps a five-game sweep in recent tournament action against their counterparts from the Atlanta area.
“It’s really tough to go 5-0 [against an opponent]. I think we proved that,” Thomas said.
That narrow victory, no doubt, was the closest the two rivals have played this season. Earlier in the tourney, Washington defeated the Thunder 4-1.
“I’m so impressed with the character these guys showed,” Thomas said. “They grew up a little bit this weekend.”
Aside from the pair of victories against the Thunder in the district tournament, Washington defeated Florida Alliance 9-2 and Team Maryland 3-2 in overtime.
Coupled with other tournaments so far this season, the Little Capitals are 8-0-1 against Southeastern foes, with their most recent title earning them a berth in the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 18U National Championship in Grand Rapids, Michigan, April 3-8.
As for the game-winner in overtime, Washington defenseman Paolo Meany slid a low shot from just inside the blue line through traffic that inadvertently got tipped into the net by a Thunder skater.
“It was one of those moments that something comes over you and I said, ‘I’m going to get it done,’” Meany said after being smothered against the glass by his exuberant teammates. “I saw it go in and I’m just lost for words.”
Caps goaltender Connor Leslie was not as concerned about allowing a goal in overtime as much as he was simply focused on seeing each and every puck that came toward his net.
“You’ve got to always stay positive and focus,” Leslie said. “I wasn’t thinking about [allowing] a goal. You’ve just got to make the next stop.”
“He played unbelievably well,” Thomas said of his netminder, who came up with some stellar saves to keep the Thunder at bay until his team got the timely score.
The Little Capitals got a goal from Declan Martin off a pass from Christian Tschampel during regulation play.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.