CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Facing a rare deficit, it took all of 23 seconds for Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 16U to not only take the lead Sunday but pull away en route to a return trip to Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 16U National Championships April 1-6 in Rochester, Michigan and a chance to defend its title.
“It definitely was a pretty special [sequence],” the Penguins’ Jackson Morehouse said. “Quick plays to the net, three quick goals, we got the momentum — and we kind of rode it the rest of the game.”
Anthony Carone, Alexey Yarmulnik and Shawn O’Donnell scored in succession during a 23-second span in an early second period frenzy that lifted the Penguins to a 6-1 victory over the Sylvania North Stars.
“We try to attack off of goals,” Penguins Elite coach Brian Mueller said. “Those are key moments in games where we can control momentum swings for hopefully two, three minutes — and today, it worked [within] a minute.”
Try less than half that, starting with Carone four minutes and 28 seconds into the second. Before the crowd at the Penguins home rink at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex had even finished celebrating the tying of the game at one apiece, Yarmulnik gave the Penguins all the offense they would need to win with his goal 14 seconds after Carone’s.
Just in case, though, O’Donnell made it 3-1 just nine seconds later.
“I thought after we got the first one, the kids settled down a little,” said Mueller, whose team had outscored its opponents 23-0 over their first three games of the tournament. “And we came right back with a faceoff play — and then were able to get another one that next shift on a faceoff play. So, it was big for us. That was a swing that changed things and kind of put us on top.”
Five players — captains O’Donnell and Morehouse, assistant captains Austin Oravetz and Carter Schade, and goalie Andrew Pichora — remain from last year’s national titlists.
“We have all been playing forever it seems,” said Morehouse, a Dartmouth commit. “It’s a special bond, for sure. To get to win it together last year was extremely special, and I think we’ve got a real good chance to do again this year, and if we do it that would be the perfect end.”
Morehouse had two goals and five points in the tournament. O’Donnell had five goals, including a third period tally Sunday. Schade and Oravetz tied for the team lead with eight points throughout the tournament. Oravetz had a team-best six assists, and Pichora allowed only one goal in playing three of the four games over the weekend.
But the veteran captains weren’t the only ones who were productive for the Penguins. Nicholas Sewecke scored his fourth goal of the tournament during the final, Logan Cooley also had four goals and Yarmulnik, Carone, Johnny Fratto and Arik Altman had multiple-goal tournaments, too.
“On our team we have not only depth, but we also have many players who can play their role and be the best possible player in that role,” O’Donnell said. “And over the season we have developed into the team we are now and got our identity, which is strong defense and relentlessness.”
Mueller said it’s not by accident those qualities have shown themselves.
“[The players] work hard, and they like to compete,” Mueller said. “Our practices are hard and abrasive — and they just love it that way.”
Love it enough that nothing made them happier than to have another month to play together and work as one to win another national championship.
“We have a real special group this year, and I just hope that I can use my experience from last year’s run to help us achieve it again,” O’Donnell said. “Going back-to-back would be huge, not only for our team but also to set a legacy that [Pens Elite] younger players would like to achieve.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.