When it comes to the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite organization, development may start at home but it plays equally well on the road.
With six teams representing the black and gold at the 2021 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships, the organization’s “from the bottom up” philosophy is on full display this week. In total, 13 teams from around the Steel City are competing on the national stage.
Among them is Daniel MacKinnon’s 15-Only squad that punched its ticket to Dallas after they finished their COVID-shortened season with a 22-15-4 record.
That was good enough to earn them the 14th seed where they plan on punching above their weight class as they vie for a spot in Saturday’s quarterfinals. The Pens Elite took a big step in that direction Thursday with a dramatic 4-3 overtime victory against a resilient Florida Alliance squad.
Brandon’s Svoboda’s goal at 3:36 mark of the extra session kept the Pens title hopes from running out of ink as they head into a Friday faceoff against the RI Saints, which lost a heartbreaker in overtime against Honeybaked, the team that shutout the Pens in their opening game.
“This time of year is fun. You have to make sure you have emotion and passion and I think both teams showed that today,” MacKinnon said afterward.
“It was a team effort and everyone was willing to do what’s necessary to make a play. The emotion was high on the bench and everyone was involved. It’s nice to see the boys with smiles at the end of the game. It was a tight game that could have gone either way, but fortunately we came out on top today.”
After Florida jumped on top thanks to a Connor Brown goal, the Penguins responded with three of their own, including a pair from Justin Stupka sandwiched around a Svoboda tally.
The Alliance continued to scratch back and found the equalizer on the power play after Pens goaltender Zackary Ferris inadvertently shot the puck out of play drawing a delay of game penalty.
Brown’s wrist shot from the left faceoff dot with 2:35 left in regulation beat Ferris low to the glove side to force the extra session.
“They definitely had some momentum and put a push on,” MacKinnon said. “At this time of year is great and unique in the sense that we’ve been preaching things all year but the kids take it upon themselves. They know what’s right and what’s wrong. They just gathered as a group and they knew what they had to do at the key moments of the game and they did it. It was a good team effort.”
That team effort can be felt throughout the organization as the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins club has long supported youth hockey throughout western Pennsylvania, from its successful Little Pens Learn to Play program all the way up to its Tier I teams.
“From an organizational standpoint, everyone works together,” MacKinnon said. “The NHL backing is the foundation, and then we have great staff at the Lemieux complex. Everyone just rolls up their sleeves. Everyone is very passionate about teaching young hockey players the proper techniques and how to train on and off the ice. It’s a whole package.
“Obviously the by-product you want is wins, but the key thing is development. We feel like we do a good job with that by making sure that at each age group we implement the right things so when they get to this competitive environment they’re ready.”
Shattuck-St. Mary’s 5, Sioux Falls Power 0
Cooper Pierson scored two goals and Duncan Shin added a goal and an assist to provide Jeremy Carpenter with all the offensive support he would need in a 5-0 blanking of Sioux Falls.
Chicago Mission 5, Buffalo Jr. Sabres 1
Gabriel Perreault, Dashel Oliver and James Reeder all scored in the second period to snap a scoreless tie as the top-seeded Chicago Mission improved to 2-0. John Gedraitis stopped 25 of 26 shots he faced to pace the victory. His only blemish was a third-period tally from Riley Cwiklinski.
NJ Avalanche 6, Team Alaska 5
Sparked by a pair of power-play goals, the NJ Avalanche jumped out to a 5-2 lead and then held on to shut down a spirited Alaska squad. Six different members of the New Jersey crew found the back of the net, and Stephen Peck and Xander Miceli combined to stop 25 shots in the win. Dantae Hunziker paced the Alaskan attack with a pair of goals in the final two minutes to narrow the final margin.
Mid-Fairfield Rangers 3, Team Wisconsin 0
Salvatore Guzzo and Brian Nicholas scored second period goals to snap a scoreless tie, and William Baker turned aside 17 shots as the Rangers improved to 2-0. Ryan Fine’s power-play goal in the final frame closed out the scoring.
Honeybaked 1, RI Saints 0, OT
Jackson Foddrill’s shot in overtime redirected off a skate and snuck past Rhode Island goalie Michael Calabret to lift Honeybaked to a hard-fought victory. Calabret (19 saves) and Honeybaked’s Kenneth Augustine (28 saves) were equally impressive through 51 minutes of regulation.
Chicago Young Americans 5, Dallas Stars Elite 0
Christopher O’Flaherty netted a hat trick and Brayden Macko turned aside 14 shots as CYA improved to 2-0. Sammy Grimaldi and Brendan Fields also scored for Chicago.
Compuware 5, MN HP Blue Ox 1
After spotting the Blue Ox an early lead on a Kade Kohanski goal, Compuware roared back with five unanswered goals to improve to 2-0. Zak Januszkowski provided most of the offense for Compuware with four goals, and Michael Burchill pitched in with another. Michael Modelski stopped 20 of 21 shots for the win.