The girls on the Tier I 19U San Jose Jr. Sharks know what it takes to win at the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships.
In 2017, the Sharks earned a championship and the next year captured runner up. However, both those years were at the Tier II level.
This year, San Jose jumped up to Tier I and rose to the challenge by winning the Pacific District Tier I 19U championship.
“I think it’s good we’ve been able to move up and we’re going back to nationals,” Sharks coach Bobby Long said.
Five players will make their third straight trip to nationals: Evelyne Blais-Savoie, Juliette Blais-Savoie, Claire Peterson, Marisa Trevino and Ria Stevens. Long relies on those players to be the backbone of the squad and the leaders for their young teammates experiencing the big stage at nationals.
“They’re just looking for the opportunity to continue their season and see what happens when we get there,” Long said.
With only two Tier I 19U teams competing for the Pacific District championship and an automatic berth to nationals, the Sharks took on the Anchorage North Stars in a best-of-three series in Anchorage on March 1-3.
The Sharks almost didn’t punch their ticket to nationals. The team dropped the opening game of the series 3-2 in overtime.
“We talked in the locker room about putting that game behind us and we’ve got to come out tomorrow and see what happens,” Long said. “Based on what happens, we’ll see what happens on Sunday. Just take one day at a time, one game at a time.”
San Jose pulled off a 4-1 victory in Game 2 to force the third and decisive Game 3.
“We talked to them about, ‘This is it. This is what we’ve trained all season for,’” Long said. “It’s win and move on. If we lose, we’re done.”
The Sharks led 3-0 early in the third period when the North Stars scored twice. San Jose answered to go up 4-2 and Anchorage scored a late power-play goal to make it a one-goal game. However, the Sharks fought off the comeback to earn a 4-3 win.
The postgame celebration was a little subdued as the girls knew they have bigger things to accomplish at nationals.
“It was just a small celebration of just the players gathering in the net and congratulating each other and lining up for the handshake line,” Long said.
The Sharks have had a good season with a 26-11-3 record. Long loves coaching the special group of girls who are all about taking care of business.
“They come to the rink, they work hard on and off the ice and it just translates to the ice,” Long said. “They don’t give up, they just continue to battle.”
The Sharks have two college commits — Peterson is going to Connecticut and Evelyne Blais-Savoie to Vermont — and a well-balanced attack on both ends of the ice.
“I would say each game is different,” Long said. “It could be very offensively for us or can be held to a couple of goals, but we have enough defensive prowess to keep it to win low-scoring games as well.”
The Sharks know a trip to the finals in Tier I is going to be a difficult road.
“We’re looking at a very tough, uphill battle,” Long said. “Our goal is just to advance out of the round-robin and see what happens. We’re definitely going in as the underdogs.”
What does Long’s team need to do to make sure his girls advance to the quarterfinals?
“Play as a team, play our game and if we support each other and play the team game, good things might happen for us,” Long said.
Long feels like his girls are playing well right now, which could bode well at nationals. The tournament will be held in Irvine, California, which is nearly a six-hour drive down the coast from San Jose.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Long said. “I think we’re playing some good, solid hockey up and down the lineup and are looking forward to the national tournament.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): District Tourney News