If there’s a repeat champion in the USA Hockey-Chipotle Youth Tier II 14U National Championships, it will be a long shot.
The second-year Atlanta Madhatters organization already had knocked off the 2018 and 2019 1A champions, Atlanta Fire, just to get to Nationals.
The Madhatters opened play Thursday with a 10-0 victory over the Oklahoma City Oil Kings.
The only returning champion from 2019, the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes, lost their 2A opening game Thursday, 4-1 to the Tri-City (Washington) Jr. Americans. To repeat as champion, Carolina most likely would have to win its two remaining round-robin games, a semifinal and the championship game to repeat.
A year ago, the Jr. Americans won the Washington state championship to earn their first shot at Nationals. Only there were no Nationals because of concerns about the then-emerging COVID-19 pandemic.
“The day of our first practice [last year] preparing for Nationals we found out they were canceled,” coach Jody Carpenter said. “We told all the kids.”
Team captain Connor Ellingsen is one of eight players returning this season in 14U. He said, “We were all heartbroken. It’s the worst feeling when you don’t play.
“We’re excited for this year. We’ve been preparing for it.”
That preparation led to two goals for Ellingsen and 30 saves in 31 shots for goalie Chad DeJong against the Jr. Hurricanes.
The season started late for Tri-City because of COVID restrictions in the state of Washington. Carpenter said, “We had hurdles to go through. Ninety percent of our games were out of state. We had to go to Utah for tournaments and to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to play. Fortunately, we have a great parent group that enabled us to travel.”
The pandemic didn’t have as great an effect on the Madhatters.
“We were fortunate in Atlanta and the Southern states that we didn’t have to delay this season, so we have a little more advantage this year,” said Yan Kaminsky, the 14U coach and youth hockey director for the Madhatters. A former Winnipeg Jet and New York Islander, he has won a world championship and is a hall of famer in his native Russia. Kaminsky coached the Atlanta Phoenix 14U 2A national champions.
His son, Sebastian Kaminsky, was one of three Madhatters with two goals against Oklahoma City. He scored twice in the third period after assisting on Aidan Ennis’ second-period goal. Chase Tzimenatos and Evan Kouznetsov also found the net twice.
Coach Kaminsky said, “We try to stress team play, be aggressive, win small battles, pass the puck, create opportunities.” The Madhatters checked all the boxes to outshoot the Oil Kings 46-12.
The 2A game between Carolina and Tri-City was more dramatic.
The Jr. Hurricanes appeared to tie the game 2-2 late in the second period when Mason Jeeves put the puck in the net. At about the same time, a teammate received a major penalty for slashing.
Carolina killed off the Jr. Americans’ five-minute power play.
“In a power play that long, nine times out of 10, the puck goes in the net,” Carpenter said. “We had an opportunity that could go other way. Our kids came out and scored.”
Just 1:21 after the power play expired, Dominic Deery picked up a loose puck in the Carolina end and put it in the net.
The Jr. Hurricanes had scored first at 6:58 of the first period. Joshua Smith tapped his stick on the ice to ask for the puck. Austin Hryn passed cross-ice to Smith, whose shot beat Dejong.
Barely a minute later, Ethan Lockard tied the game for Tri-City. In the second period, Ellingsen put his first goal under the crossbar with an assist from Job Carpenter. Ellingsen’s second goal, with 2:14 to play, clinched the victory.
Coach Carpenter knows his team has a difficult path to a national championship. On Friday, the Jr. Americans face the Utah Golden Eagles, who defeated Tri-City (Kennewick-Pasco-Richland) three times during the season and beat the Alaska Stars 5-2 Thursday.
Saturday’s opponent will be … Tri-City. That’s the Tri-City Eagles from Maryland. Those Eagles defeated Team North Dakota 4-3. The difference was Julian Huckaby’s second-period penalty shot.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.