In the world of Tier I hockey, several organizations are synonymous with excellence. The Chicago Mission are certainly one of them.
Not only are its teams regulars at the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships, they consistently punch their tickets to the big dance on the final Monday of competition.
But this is no ordinary year. While the goal is always to make it to Nationals, Mission coaches have been more focused on the process than on the results.
“There are a lot of great hockey teams out here and everyone wants to make it as far as they can. That’s why it’s the national tournament,” said Greg Tam, head coach of the Mission’s Youth Tier I 14 & Under team.
“Our expectation can’t be just success based on if we win our last game or not. The expectation that we had early in the year was to be here and now everything beyond this is a bonus. We only hope that they take advantage of the opportunity that they created.”
The Mission took their first step in that process but fighting off a stiff challenge from a talented Minuteman Flames team in the tournament opener. Charles Arend (a goal and three assists) and Kamil Bednarik (two goals) did the heavy offensive lifting, but it was Frank DeRosa’s goal late in the third period that snapped a 3-3 tie and ultimately put the final pin in the Flames’ comeback hopes.
“That was a good hockey team,” Tam said. “At this time of the year anything can happen. I think the biggest thing right now is we’re in the same boat as everyone else. Things have been a little complicated this year with COVID, things have been a little off out of the norm.”
And when things deviate from the norm, it’s best to stick with what got them here.
“The biggest message we try to tell our kids is just keep it simple early. If you do that things will eventually work out for the best,” Tam said. “Good teams are always going to find a way back. And in those games, it’s just about playing a complete game and trust in what we put in place.”
Drew Carr staked the Flames to the early lead as he corralled a bouncing puck at center ice, slipped past a Mission defender and tucked a backhander over the blocker of goalie Nicholas Kempf.
The Mission roared back on a short-handed goal from Joseph DeRosa and a Bednarik tally with 21 seconds left in the period.
Bednarik’s second of the game padded the lead to 3-1 in the second before the Flames caught fire in the third with a pair of goals 43 seconds apart from Cameron Cooke and Carr before DeRosa’s heroics and Arend’s empty-net goal put an end to the rally.
Like all the teams that made the trek to The Lone Star State, it’s the final leg in a journey none of them will ever forget. Where some teams may have seen missed opportunities that come with a loss of competition, the Mission prefer to focus on what was gained through the experience.
“It can be frustrating when things aren’t normal and expectations are altered,” Tam said. “There’s a lot that goes into it, but at the end of the day the process stays the same. It’s about developing the kids.
“Our club really stressed the importance of taking advantage of the extra practice times that we had this year. I think the kids benefited from it.”
As the old saying goes, focus on the process and the results will follow.
The Rhode Island Saints rode a potent powerplay to an opening round victory as James Hagens and Tyler Wood found the back of the net with the man advantage. John Parsons stopped 22 of 23 shots he faced, only surrendering a third-period powerplay goal to Thomas Zocco. Marko Vucemilovich made 43 saves for the Avalanche.
John Mooney’s goal at the 1:32 mark of the second period snapped a 1-1 tie to lift the Penguins Elite to a hard-fought victory. William Zellers staked the Jr. Gamblers to a first-period lead, which Austin Webber erased 36 seconds later. Gamblers goalie Logan Hughes and Tanner McKiven for the Penguins were equally stellar between the pipes....
Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the Faribault, Minn., prep school powerhouse, showed why they are the top seed in the tournament by staging an impressive display in all three zones on their way to a 13-1 victory over Team North Dakota. Brodie Ziemer, Cole Eiserman and Macklin Celebrini each contributed five points to pace the offensive juggernaut. Lucas Berman was rarely tested but still managed to come up with some big saves. His only blemish was a third-period power-play goal by Alex Arneson.
The St. Louis Blues launched their national championship run with a hard-fought victory over tenacious N.J. Colonials squad. Carson Mitchell’s first-period goal was all the offense that Richard Struckhoff would need as he stymied Colonials shooters all game long. Shane Vansaghi added an insurance marker in the third period.
Christian Humphreys notched a pair of goals and added an assist to pace the Buffalo Saints to an impressive win. Joining Humphreys on the stat sheet was Nathan Delladonna, who pitched in a goal and two assists.
Jack Sadowski's hat trick provided the offense and Brendan Carberry's 25-save effort was all the defense the Boston Jr. Eagles needed to escape with a hard-fought victory. Grant Young scored the lone goal for the Thunderbirds.
When 53 minutes wasn’t enough to decide a winner, the Jr. Kings and Compuware headed to a shootout. After a 19-save effort through regulation and overtime, Justin Bayers stopped another four shots in the shootout to lift the Kings to victory. Tyler Chiovetti and Nicholas Christianson managed to slip shots past Compuware goalie Benjamin White, whose only blemish in regulation was a first-period goal by Kai Mencel. Dennis Lominac scored the lone tally for Compuware.