IRVINE, Calif. – The Pittsburgh Penguins Elite came into the Chipotle USA Hockey Girls Tier 1 16U National Championship tournament as the 13th seed in the 16-team field. It may prove to be a lucky No. 13 for the Mid-Am District champs who are looking to fly under the radar.
The Pens wrote the first chapter in what they hope will be a championship story with a complete 3-0 victory over the Connecticut Polar Bears to open the tournament Thursday at the Great Park Ice Arena.
“It’s tough coming into the tournament as a lower seed and not getting a lot of respect, but it’s something we’re trying not to think about,” said head coach Ashley Vesci.
“We actually like it. There’s a certain camaraderie that comes with being an underdog. It definitely takes the pressure off of us. We can come out and play our game and maybe we can surprise some people.”
According to Vesci, the Pens’ record coming into the national tournament may not be indicative of how well her team has performed this season. Coming up on the losing end of too many one-goal games has helped her players learn to battle through more than their fair share of adversity on their way to Nationals.
They come to California with the luxury of rolling four solid lines and employing three sets of very capable defensemen. They like to push the play by getting pucks deep and pressuring their opponents into turnovers. The Pens worked that game play to perfection to jump on the Polar Bears early as Ellie Marcovsky potted a pair of first-period goals.
The first came when Marcovsky picked a Polar Bear defender’s pocket and lifted a backhander over the shoulder of CT goaltender Mandy Busky for an unassisted goal. The second came a little more than two minutes later as Haley Steffey dug the puck out of the corner and fed Marcovsky in the slot for a one timer.
That was more than enough offense for goaltender Sophie Bellina made several spectacular saves including a great glove save against Maeve Reynolds late in the second period.
The Pens padded their lead early in the final frame as Mackenzie King converted a pass from Serena Slusarcyk.
With a full day before their next game against a tough Shattuck-St. Mary’s squad, Vesci is looking to keep her charges focused despite the allure of spending time in the southern California sunshine.
“Being here feels like a vacation,” she said. “But we’re here for a reason so we’re going to make sure our girls get plenty of rest, watch a little video and get ready for tomorrow.”
Shattuck-St. Mary’s 1, Buffalo Regals 0
Sydney Morrow’s second-period goal was all the offense Shattuck would need as Lauren Barbro stopped all 13 shots the Regals could muster in a tight-checking opening affair for both teams.
MN Elite Gray 7, Washington Pride 1
Jada Habisch tallied a pair of goals, and Sydney Langseth pitched in with a goal and three assists as the MN Elite Gray lived up to their No. 1 seed. Allyson Qualley, Lacey Martin and Ellen Nelson also scored for the Minnesota High Performance Tier I League champs. Alex Pellicci was rarely tested but came up with several big saves when tested. Madison Cote goal early in the third period put the Pride on the scoreboard.
Boston Jr. Eagles 6, Philadelphia Jr Flyers 1
Kiley Mastel netted the first hat trick of the tournament to lift the Jr. Eagles. Hope Walinski turned aside 19 of the 20 shots she faced, surrendering only a late goal to Jr. Flyers forward Rachel Martin.
Chicago Mission 2, Anaheim Lady Ducks 1
Maggie Kometa’s goal in the final seconds snapped a 1-1 tie to lift the defending national champs to a hard-fought victory over the hosts from Anaheim. Sevilla Banda Hawthorne’s goal with a little more than two minutes remaining drew the Lady Ducks even and seemed to set the stage for overtime before Kometa’s heroics. Emily Evans was amazing in goal for Anaheim, stopping 37 of the 39 shots she faced. Her only blemish was a first-period goal by Mission forward Clara Zubor.
East Coast Wizards 3, Belle Tire 0
Taylor Hyland stopped all eight shots she faced to pace the East Coast Wizards to victory. Christina Vote opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal in the first period, and Molly MacQueen added a power-play goal in the middle frame. Liliana Zavolas put the game on ice with a goal in the third period.
Bay State Breakers 3, Dallas Stars Elite 0
Katie Pyne netted four goals, including a natural hat trick, to pace the Breakers to an opening round win. Ashley Clark pitched in with a goal and an assist, and Erin Murray stopped all 15 shots the Dallas Stars threw her way.
Rochester Youth Hockey 4, Mid-Fairfield Stars 3
Laila Edwards scored her second goal of the game to give the Rochester, N.Y.-based squad a dramatic victory over Mid-Fairfield. Edwards goal with 2 minutes remaining capped a third-period comeback. Chloe Behringer, Christina Tourmas and Morgann Skoda had staked the Stars to a second-period lead, before Anna Staton tied the game late in the final frame, setting the stage for Edwards’ heroics.