GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Tyler Kennedy opened the scoring and Alex Servagno scored in the second period as the Pittsburgh Pens Elite held on to beat the Yale Jr. Bulldogs, 2-1, in the title game of the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 16U National Championship.
“I’m just so happy for this group,” said Pittsburgh Pens Elite head coach Brian Mueller. “One of the goals, as I mentioned yesterday, was to play in that last game and they achieved that. Now, to win, stay focused and stick with the plan is so rewarding as a coach, but we’re really happy for the players.”
Kennedy got Pittsburgh on the board at the 13:51 mark after Alexander Rohlf made the initial save and Kennedy was in the slot to punch home the rebound.
After Aden Bruich collected the puck and skated into the Yale zone along the left side of the ice, he attempted to feed a backhand pass through the crease that was saved by Rohlf. Despite stopping the initial threat, the puck squirted out into the slot and Bruich was on the doorstep to give Pittsburgh the crucial first goal of the contest.
After a Pittsburgh penalty gave the Jr. Bulldogs a power play chance early in the second period, the Pens Elite struck again to gain a two-goal advantage at the 4:54 mark.
As Yale controlled the puck in the Pittsburgh zone, a pass came up to the point that was fumbled at the blue line. Servagno quickly jumped on it and sped past the defender before skating in alone on a breakaway.
Servagno, a left-handed shot, came in on the left side before faking a wrist shot and beating Rohlf with a shot through the five hole. Servagno’s shorthanded goal gave Pittsburgh the two-goal lead that would last through the remainder of the second stanza.
“I’m very, very happy for Alex,” said Mueller. “He’s a kid that just works. He’s so offensively gifted, but we asked him to be a little more defensively-minded this year. Sure enough, that’s how that goal started. He was on the right side of the puck and got a breakaway because of it.”
However, Pittsburgh did not go untested during the second. Yale produced quality looks at the net, including hitting a post at the eight-minute mark while on the power play. Despite Yale generating chances, Aidan Campbell stood tall in the crease for Pittsburgh and the Pens Elite went to the dressing room with a two-goal lead after two periods.
“Aidan Campbell is fantastic,” said Mueller. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a goalie that big that moves that well. He’s just so calm under pressure. He’s got great composure. He was big for us all weekend.”
The Jr. Bulldogs got on the board at the 6:12 mark of the third period after a tripping penalty assessed to Pittsburgh gave Yale a power play opportunity.
After Bayard Hall fired a shot from the point, Dane Dowiak collected the rebound in front and guided the puck to Lucas Mercuri. Collecting the puck near the right side of the goal, Mercuri fired a shot top shelf that got behind Campbell and brought the Jr. Bulldogs within one.
With just under two minutes to play, Yale pulled its goalie and gained a sixth attacker. The Jr. Bulldogs fired multiple shots at the net, but Campbell stayed strong in net as he has throughout the tournament.
After making an initial save on a shot with five seconds remaining, a rebound popped out in front, but Campbell was once again up to the challenge and stopped the final shot from Yale, making Pittsburgh national champions.
“We’re a young team,” said Mueller. “I think by January we could really see a difference in our team chemistry. Our leaders, Alex Servagno and Cole Oravitz really took control of the locker room and went after it. I’m just so proud of this group.”
Campbell made 26 saves on 27 shots in the victory.