PLANO, Tex. — After one period on Thursday afternoon, the Cheektowaga (New York) Warriors found themselves locked in a 1-1 stalemate with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks in Tier II 16U 3A play of the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U National Championships at the Plano StarCenter.
The Warriors had taken an early lead when Daniel Tocco scored 1:11 into the game.
However, Anaheim’s Nicholas Stevens netted the equalizer 14 seconds before the horn sounded to conclude the first period.
At 10:46 of the middle frame, Cheektowaga answered the bell, regaining its lead when Michael Lafferty scored a power-play goal to cap a flurry of activity in front of the Anaheim net to make it 2-1.
Heading into the third, the Warriors’ edge remained a single goal. The Jr. Ducks hit the ice inspired to start the final stanza, peppering Cheektowaga goaltender Joshua Ruffner for a game-tying tally with shot after shot as Anaheim logged the first six attempts on goal of the period.
So, Cheektowaga head coach Tony Pierino pressed the reset button by calling timeout, and it worked perfectly.
“The biggest thing I didn’t want my team to do after two periods was sit on a lead,” Pierino said. “Obviously, we did that in the beginning three minutes of the period. That’s why I called my timeout, to tell them we have to go after our opponent.”
The Warriors quickly took Pierino’s sage advice to heart, scoring three goals within 1:10 to take a commanding 5-1 lead, also the final score.
Christian Heitzhaus opened the flurry at 5:28 with a goal, which Bryson Miller followed with another 10 seconds later. The final goal of the sequence came from Ryan Laschinger at the 6:38 mark, an onslaught which left the Jr. Ducks dazed.
“Yeah, our team will respond when they need to when the pressure’s on,” Pierino said. “They’re a good pressure team when it comes to things like that, especially for being 16 years old.”
Balanced scoring was indeed the order of the day for Cheektowaga, who had five different players find the back of the net. Ethan Miller chipped in two assists while Heitzhaus had a goal and an assist.
The victory was the Warriors’ 13th straight and extended their unbeaten streak to 16 games (15-0-1).
“We came out strong, which I was happy about,” Pierino said. “Both teams, obviously are fired up, first game of a tournament like this, especially of this magnitude. We capitalized on some goals, which was good. Plus, my goaltending was key today. That helped us out a lot.”
Ruffner stopped 23 of 24 shots to earn the win.
But Pierino didn’t just want to talk about Ruffner’s stellar showing between the pipes to open the tournament, he also wanted to discuss his other netminder, Ryan Albert, who will start Friday against Affton, which defeated the Howard Huskies 3-2 on Thursday afternoon.
“Yeah, Josh Ruffner’s been playing for me for several years; he’s an excellent [goaltender],” Pierino said. “Actually, I’m blessed to have two goaltenders that are really strong. Ryan Albert, my other goaltender, also is very strong. They’re good kids with great personality, which suits them because you have to have a certain personality to play goaltender. But they do very well, both of them.”
And even though his team opened nationals with an impressive four-goal win, Pierino still noticed several rough edges which need attention before the Warriors’ next game.
“I won’t take a 5-1 lead for granted whatsoever,” Pierino said. “Then it’s a matter of controlling the puck, getting it deep, wearing that clock down and not worrying about more goals, but worrying about keeping the puck out of your net and taking care of your blue line. That’s it.”
Still, the Warriors looked every bit like an absolute juggernaut, a team firing on all cylinders which hasn’t lost since Sept. 30, 2018.
“Yeah, it hasn’t been an easy road, that’s for sure,” Pierino said. “This is something that they’ve always wanted, that they’ve been dreaming about, to get to where they are right now. They’re obviously in postseason form.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.