GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - After walking away from the 2018 18U tournament as national champions, the Central Connecticut Selects did it again in 2019.
Killian Rowelee scored the game-winning goal in overtime and Dominic Basse made 48 saves as Cntral Connecticut defeated the North Jersey Avalance, 3-2, in the title game of the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 18U National Championship.
“We had a great team all the way through this year,” said Central Connecticut Selects head coach Chris Uber. “We were confident in our group. These guys always play their best hockey in championship games, whether it’s a weekend tournament or regional play. They’ve always been at their best when they need to be.”
After a scoreless first period with both teams exchanging chances, Central Connecticut got on the board first at the 1:07 mark of the first period.
Artur Turansky took a pass from Primo Self near the right corner of the North Jersey zone. As he approached the bottom of the faceoff circle, Turansky used a power move to ward off the Avalanche defenseman and roofed a shot over Tyler Franchi to open the scoring.
“Getting the first goal was huge, especially against a team as talented as North Jersey,” said Uber. “They can pour it on and score in bunches. Our goal was to come back into the locker room with a lead after the second period and to the guys’ credit, they did it.”
The two teams continued to go back and forth in the second period, but neither could find the back of the net and the close game went into the second intermission with only one goal on the board.
The third period was one of the most exciting of the tournament, with Central Connecticut striking first at the 7:04 mark.
After Central Connecticut held the puck in the offensive zone, Stephen Kyrkostas streaked up the right boards. Kyrkostas looked towards the slot and saw Turansky waiting for a pass. Kyrkostas sent a pass towards the slot, but an Avalanche defender made a nice play to lift the stick of Turansky and break up the play. However, Self was waiting behind the two players at the backdoor. After the puck found its way through, Self was able to gather the puck and put it behind Franchi to give his team a 2-0 lead.
As the minutes continued to wind down, it looked certain that Central Connecticut was going to walk away with a win in regulation, but North Jersey had other plans in mind.
After pulling Franchi in order to gain a sixth attacker, the Avalanche got its first goal of the game at the 19:25 mark off the stick of Tyler Sedlak.
Kenny Riddett fired a shot on goal from the top of the circles that was saved by Basse, but after a rebound popped out near the right circle, Sedlak was there to fire a shot into the back of the net.
With just 35 seconds remaining, the odds still looked to be in Central Connecticut’s favor, but the Avalanche kept pushing. After collecting a pass in the neutral zone, Christopher Carroll flew into the offensive zone and made a move towards the middle of the ice. Carroll fired a hard wrist shot that went over the glove of Basse and into the top corner with just 10 seconds remaining in regulation.
As the overtime period started, both teams appeared to be in more of a defensive posture before North Jersey used its third period momentum to begin generating chances. Firing multiple shots on goal, the Avalanche continued to press, but Basse stood tall in the net.
“He was the leader,” said Uber. “He was square to everything. He was big on penalty kills. Your goalie has to be your best penalty killer and he was that for us today. He’s very calm. Nothing rattles him. He stayed the course and did a fantastic job.”
As the overtime period continued to roll on, Central Connecticut ended the game in dramatic fashion with a goal from Rowlee.
Tatsunori Yuzuki entered the zone along the right boards and ducked under a hit before cycling the puck down low to Joe Santoro. After Santoro collected the puck, he returned a pass to Yuzuki, who proceeded to make a behind the back pass into the slot.
The puck deflected off the stick of an Avalanche defender and Rowlee was right there to fire a shot just inside the left post and complete the repeat for Central Connecticut.
“He’s such a hard-working kid,” said Uber when describing Rowlee. “If anybody deserves it, he does. Nobody spends more time in the weight room or down on the extra ice in the mornings putting work into his game. He’s been a fantastic addition and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
After facing the adversity of getting scored on twice in the final minute, Uber had confidence that his team could still pull off the victory.
“We certainly didn’t draw it up that way, but I think it definitely speaks to the heart of the champion that our team has,” said Uber. “There was never any doubt. These guys weren’t going to quit until they had the chance to go out on top.”