Hang around a hockey rink long enough and you’re bound to see something you’ve never seen before. Like both teams pulling their goalie late in a game.
Despite holding a one-goal lead and hanging on for dear life against the high-powered Mid-Fairfield Rangers, the NJ Avalanche had already crunched the numbers and knew what they needed to do if they were going to have any chance of advancing to the quarterfinals at the 2021 Chipotle-USA Hockey Tier I 15 Only National Championship tournament.
So they pulled their goalie in the final minute as they looked pressed for that two-goal cushion that would give them the tiebreaking edge against Team Wisconsin, a team that had beaten the Avalanche earlier in the tournament.
At the same time, the Rangers were putting on the pressure as they looked for the equalizer. They too pulled their goalie, basically creating a wide open game of shinny on the national stage.
“It was a weird thing having to win by two. It’s not something you experience during the season,” said Avalanche head coach Anthony Day after his team’s thrilling 5-3 victory.
“Even though we were up by a goal, we were telling the kids to act like it’s a tie game. Credit to the boys, it was all them. It’s an experience they’ll never forget. To be moving on is everything.”
Friday’s final preliminary round matchup was yet another chapter in what has become one of the most competitive rivalries between two East Coast powerhouse programs. For Day, who took over the coach reins in February, his team used that familiarity to their advantage.
“We know that team and we know their tendencies,” he said. “We also know they’re as skilled as any team in the country.”
It also helped that the Avalanche knew what they needed to do if they were going to live to paly another day.
“There weren’t a lot of unknowns coming into the morning,” Day said. “The boys executed pretty well. We were the aggressors and the third period just shows the kind of heart that we have.”
There was no shortage of heart on either side during this back and forth affair. After the Pavel Baranchik gave the Avalanche the lead midway through the final frame, the Rangers showed why they are the second seed in the tournament as they pushed hard for the equalizer.
Staked to the man advantage, head coach Martin St. Louis pulled his goalie for an extra attacker. The chances came from every angle but Avs goalie Stephen Peck made one acrobatic save after another, and even got a little help from the post along the way.
Finally able to relieve the pressure, the Avs hemmed the Rangers deep in their own end as the seconds ticked away before Griffin Erdman corralled a loose puck at the blueline, spun and fired a shot into the gaping goal with 8 seconds remaining to keep their championship hopes alive.
“What a third period,” Day said. “It’s a credit to the guys for sticking with it. We were up by a goal a couple of times and they tied it up. In a matchup like that it’s all about the compete level. They’re very talented team but we are too. We had the mindset today to just keep grinding.
“We always tell our guys that for anybody who is watching the game, it should be obvious who’s the hardest working team. It will be the team with the A on their chest.”
Team Wisconsin 7, Team Alaska 1
Brendan Gruber scored the first of his two goals shortly after puck drop as Team Wisconsin rode a balanced attack to its second victory of the tournament. Unfortunately, the tiebreaker did not fare in their favor as they did not punch their ticket to the quarterfinals. Dante Desidero stopped eight of nine shots he faced, surrendering only a third period power play goal to Benjamin Plucinski.Team Alaska vs. Team Wisconsin
Florida Alliance 2, Honeybaked 1, SO
Connor Brown and Troy Maldonado scored in the shootout, and Oskar Siemionek stopped all five shots he faced as the Florida Alliance edged Compuware. Avry Shaw (Alliance) and Brandon Hinton (Honeybaked) traded goals in regulation. Michael Chambre stopped 21 shots for Compuware.
Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 3, RI Saints 2
Callaghan Huston’s goal at 6:12 of the third period snapped a 2-2 tie and propelled the Penguins Elite to their second tournament victory. The teams traded first period goals as Tanner Adams and Nolan King scored for Rhode Island while Justin Stupka and Aaron Bleier responded for the Pens.
Chicago Young Americans 3, Compuware 2
Ryan Morgan’s power-play goal midway through the third period proved to be the difference in this battle of Midwest giants. Sammy Grimaldi and Brendan Fields also scored for CYA, while Charlie Lewinski and Thomas Neu tallied for Compuware.
MN HP Blue Ox 4, Dallas Stars Elite 1
Aaron Reierson scored two goals and Thomas Gunderson added a goal and an assist to back the 14-save effort of Benjamin Swanson as the Blue Ox finished the tournament on a winning note. Charles Wilson found the back of the net for Dallas.
Gabriel Perreault scored 2 goals and James Reeder pitched in with 1 goal and 1 assist as the Chicago Mission used a three-goal second period to pull away before hanging on for the victory. Phillipe Lalonde’s third-period tally brought Shattuck-St. Mary’s to within one but that was as close as they would get as Mission goalie Max Weilandt came up big down the stretch.
Cooper Rautenstrauch stopped all 12 shots he faced and Cameron Doran led the Jr. Sabres offense with a hat trick in an impressive win to close out the preliminary round.