INDIAN TRAIL, N.C. — Florida Alliance coach Ryan Brindley felt his players were under pressure Sunday afternoon.
After all, the Florida Alliance youth Tier I 16U team features several players who were looking to make their third consecutive trip to a Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championship. None of them wanted their season to end prematurely at the USA Hockey Southeastern District Tournament.
Florida Alliance jumped out to an early lead on Team Maryland, and then added its final goal before the end of the second period, to seal a 4-2 win in the district championship game.
With the victory, Florida Alliance advanced to the 2020 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 16U National Championships in Rochester, Michigan.
“We have a lot of experience on the team and going into that game with a little bit of pressure. I just thought they handled it well,” Brindley said. “They came out right off the bat and executed on the power play. We had three power play goals, which is big.”
Florida Alliance goaltender Jacob Fowler was solid in the net and didn’t give up another goal after Team Maryland got to within 3-2. The win brings a sense of relief for Florida Alliance, which will look to avenge a loss in last year’s national championship game.
“They’re hungry because [for] a lot of these kids it’s their last year with the program. A lot of kids, they’ll be moving on to juniors or whatever opportunity they have,” Brindley said. “They’re a really tight-knit group. They’re just a real pleasure to coach.”
Getting the job done
Florida Alliance left wing Sebastian Hungsalazar wasn’t surprised at how quickly his team built a two-goal lead in the Tier I 15-Only district championship game.
Florida Alliance took control early on and didn’t give up a goal until the very end of a 2-1 win over the Nashville Jr. Predators to advance to the 2020 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 15 Only National Championships in Plymouth, Michigan.
“This is my first year going to Nationals, and it’s great. We worked hard as a team,” said Hungsalazar. “We were mentally prepared, physically prepared. It hasn’t been the best season overall for us, so it’s great coming out with the win in the end.”
Florida Alliance relied on its offensive finesse and stingy defense to jump out to a 2-0 lead. The Predators scored a late goal to avoid the shutout.
“It was just great work, great teamwork today. It was awesome to be coaching this team. It was a blast,” Florida Alliance coach Gilles Richard said. “It was a great team win. We knew it was going to be a tight one, so we just stayed patient and knew that we needed to play smart defensively and the offense would come.”
Getting puck to the net
Jim Brown, Florida Alliance’s Tier I 14U coach, hoped his team would eventually take advantage of its scoring opportunities against the Washington Little Capitals.
Those moments finally came, though it took a while.
Florida Alliance took a two-goal lead and then picked up the pace down the stretch to close out a 4-2 win over the Capitals in the district championship game.
“We kind of got a little bit off track here in the second period, and they ended up getting a couple of goals from some breakdowns that we had,” Brown said. “We just wanted to get back to the way we played, the way we started the game. We did a great job of getting pucks in deep and getting bodies on pucks and pucks to the net.”
Florida Alliance used its aggressive style of play to dictate the pace and take an early 2-0 lead. However, the Capitals scored a pair of goals to cut Florida Alliance’s lead to 3-2 heading into the second intermission.
“It was kind of one of those games where you’re working hard but just don’t really have much to show for it,” Brown said. “We just kept playing the way we’ve been playing all tournament. We got some bounces, and we got a quick goal in the third.”