When you get to this point in the season, the smart coaches know that it’s best to stick with what got you here. And for the top-seeded Shattuck-St. Mary’s that’s the high-flying line of Cole Eiserman, Macklin Celebrini and Brodie Ziemer.
The talented trio has been lighting it up this week at the 2021 Chipotle-USA Hockey Tier I 14 & Under National Championships, holding the top spots among the tournament scoring leaders. They managed to pad those stats as they paced Shattuck into the finals with a 4-1 victory over the LA Jr. Kings.
Ziemer set the table with a pair of first-period power play goals as part of a four-point effort, and Eiserman (2 goals, 1 assist) and Celebrini (3 assists) added three points each.
It’s just another day at the office for a line that head coach Christian Bragnalo has kept together for most of the season.
“I jumbled the lines, especially early in the season just to see who can play with who and develop a little chemistry. But that line of Celebrini, Eiserman and Ziemer has played together for a while now,” Bragnalo said.
“Mack anchors the middle through there and he distributes the puck well, and Ziemer and Cole have got some speed so it’s hard for other teams to defend them because they’re skilled and can play with a lot of pace. They’ve done that all tournament. So that’s why they’re tough to play against.”
They proved that early and often as the Jr. Kings took several penalties that Shattuck quickly turned into a pair of first-period power play goals. That was more than enough offense as Shattuck clamped down on the Kings, who struggled to penetrate inside and generate quality scoring chances against Shattuck goalie Lukas Bergman.
The only blemish on Bergman’s day was a second-period snipe by Tyler Chiovetti that snuck through a small window between Bergman’s shoulder and the crossbar.
Eiserman responded in short order with the first of his two goals and Aidan Park capped off the scoring with an empty-net goal.
“It was a great win but we had to work for it,” Bragnalo said. “We gave up 16 shots so that was a good job of us taking care of our own end first. And our power play generated a lot of offense for us as well. It was a good effort from top to bottom.”
All season the Buffalo Saints would beg their coaches to end practice with a shootout drill. Sometimes the coaches would agree, other times not.
After Sunday’s dramatic shootout victory over the Boston Jr. Eagles, head coach Robert Murden was glad he said yes more times than no.
“Before the shootout I told the guys ‘you always beg to do shootout competitions at the end of practice. Well, here you go. Let’s do this and advance to a national championship,’” Murden said.
That’s just what the Saints did as Christian Humphreys and William Shields scored and Aiden McKenna stopped four of the five shots he faced to help the Saints extend their season for one more game.
Thoughts of a shootout victory or any kind of win was looking like a pipedream as the Saints found themselves down by two goals with six minutes remaining and Eagles goalie Brendan Carberry turning aside everything shot his way. As the seconds ticked down, the Saints found new life as James Chase and Michael Sandruck scored one minute apart to knot the score at 3-3.
“All year we’ve talked about being even keel with our kids, whether we’re up by three goals or down by three goals,” Murden said. “We act the same way throughout the game and we stick to our structure. I’m so proud of these 14-year-old kids for maintaining their composure and not deviating from the plan.”
Part of that plan was to throw as much rubber at Carberry as they could, which they did to the tune of 57 shots.
For their part, the Eagles peppered McKenna with 51 shots, including the three that snuck through off the sticks of Theodore Stiga, Gavin Cornforth and Nathan Porter.
“Both goalies put on a great performance,” Murden said. “We’ve battled with them all year and I’ve got most respect for all those kids in that other locker room.”
Next up for the Saints will be their toughest challenge yet as they face the top seed from Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Regardless of the opposition or the face that the game will take place on the national stage, the Saints will keep the same approach as they’ve had all season.
“We broke the season into phases,” Murden said. “Our first phase was before the state tournament, the second phase was getting through the state tournament and the third phase was the national tournament.
“Once we got here we just wanted to get through the round robin portion and then take it step by step. I know our kids will be excited but we'll approach it the same way we approach every game.”