SOUTH BEND, Ind. — What happens when one of the highest-scoring teams in the 2A division of the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 14U National Championships meets up with one of the most defensively sound teams?
A 3-0 shutout in favor of the defensively-minded Carolina Jr. Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes faced off against Team South Dakota in the final game Monday at Compton Family Ice Arena. South Dakota won all of its games during pool play, outscoring opponents 23-8 as they cruised to a spot in the finals.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, earned their spot in the finals based off of strong defensive play. While they didn’t have the same type of blowout wins that South Dakota had, three of their five games leading up to the finals were one-goal affairs.
Carolina head coach David Wright agreed that defense has been a priority for the team.
“We create the turnovers so that we can get our offense moving up ice,” he said, “but defense is definitely a focus for us all season long.”
While scoring chances were plentiful in the first period — each team registered 13 shots on goal during the opening frame — goalies Kade Brecher (South Dakota) and Owen Techet (Carolina) both stood tall while their respective teams found their footing. The Jr. Hurricanes shut down the 2A tournament’s leading goalscorer in Trent Anfinson and its assists leader in Will McDonnel.
Carolina scored once, midway through the second period, with a goal from forward Brayden Strong, but as the game progressed, scoring chances for each team slowed down.
While some of that may have been due to each team settling into game play, it could also be due to the extensive special teams play in the latter portion of the game. The third period saw South Dakota with five infractions and Carolina with three, including a double minor for roughing.
Tensions ran high for each team, and Wright was tasked with keeping his players focused in the face of a frustrated South Dakota squad.
“It's just being disciplined. That's a big key factor for our team,” Wright said. “Especially in the championship game, we want to keep the penalties down and that's what we did and we got a win.”
Carolina forward Ethan Joshi added a second goal for his team at 4:17 in the third period, and forward Emil Strandberg scored on the empty net to put the game essentially out of reach for South Dakota.
Goalie Techet ended pool play with a save percentage of .905, ranking him eighth among all goaltenders — Brecher was No. 1 at .969 — but Wright didn’t hesitate to put him in net for Carolina’s biggest game of the tournament. Wright has leaned on Techet, who has played for the Hurricanes for two years, for big games.
“He’s been our shutout goaltender all along. I couldn’t have put a better person in net.”
The Hurricanes were appearing in their second national championship tournament. As Wright told his team before Monday’s game, their performance wasn’t just a reflection on them, but on the Jr. Hurricanes organization as a whole and on the state of North Carolina.
“It’s huge,” Wright said, when asked about what this championship meant for his team and their community. “Couldn’t be happier to take this home.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.