DE PERE, Wis. — Matthew Price is a seasoned veteran when it comes to playing in Nationals.
In Price’s four previous trips before this year, the Ashburn Xtreme forward had gone home disappointed, falling short of the ultimate goal. This year was different.
“A lot of us have been working three, four, five years with heartbreak after heartbreak, and it all came together,” Price said. “A lot of guys playing their last game of hockey just put it all out on the table. We won it all.”
Price scored a shorthanded goal, which turned out to be the game winner, as the Xtreme scored a hard-fought 4-1 victory over the Northern Cyclones in the USA Hockey-Chipotle Youth Tier II 18U National Championships 2A title game on Monday morning in De Pere, Wisconsin.
Andrew Kurowski, who scored a pair of goals, was filled with joy following the win.
“On top of the world, man,” Kurowski said. “It’s always the goal [to win it], but you never feel like you’re going to come through and win it all. We’ve won a lot of tournaments, but it never feels like this in the end.”
Gary Pouliot coaches both the Xtreme 18U and 16U teams. Both teams ended up capturing national titles.
“I had heard the 16s won in overtime, I said, ‘Now we’ve got to keep up,’” Pouliot said. “This is really good. I’ve been here, I think, 15 years in a row, and we won twice, but I was never the guy. It’s nice to win.”
The Xtreme, which beat the Northern Cyclones 2-1 in pool play three days earlier, jumped on the Northern Cyclones (25-4) just 5:42 into the game. Ashburn (60-6-2) had a two-on-two breakout as Kurowski carried the puck into the zone and fired top shelf, glove side, beating the Northern Cyclones goalie.
“I thought whoever scored first would have a big advantage,” Pouliot said. “We had played them earlier and even though we had won 2-1 in overtime in a shootout, they had actually outplayed us. We turned the tide this time. We took it to them a little.”
Price got his chance late in the period. With his team one player short, he had a breakaway and shot at the same location as Kurowski, and it found the back of the net with just 55.9 seconds remaining.
The Northern Cyclones cut their deficit in half on a Derek Amaral goal midway through the second. The team had 12 of its 22 shots on goal during the middle period.
“We were pressing hard before the break there to get the ice cut, we wanted to try and get that equalizer,” Northern Cyclones head coach Mike Collett Sr. said. “We wanted to come out [in the third] with a fast start. They kind of weathered the storm a little bit early in the third period.”
The Xtreme players knew they needed to stave off any late flurries by the Northern Cyclones.
“We’ve been battling adversity all year,” Price said. “This team is so good at just coming back, coming back from adversity. A goal is scored, just don’t get down on each other, pick each other up, come back better and it all worked out.”
Kurowski got another shot to outskate the defense and scored with 4:13 remaining to put his team up 3-1.
“It’s a designed play, Carter [Thompson] hits it right to me in the middle. The big 29, he’s my only other ’03 [birth year] on the team, the only one coming back,” Kurowski said. “He hits me in stride and I’m just coming down and I see it, deke right, go left. I put the puck in, knocked the net off and my head hurts. But it felt good to put it in there.”
The Xtreme added an empty net goal by Michael Winter with 35.4 seconds left.
But it was that tally by Kurowski when the Xtreme players knew they were just minutes away from storming the ice to celebrate winning a national title.
“Everybody’s jumping around the bench, everybody’s getting ready,” Price said. “We’ve been working hard for this for so long. A lot of us have played together since mites and squirts. It all worked out at the end. I’m so happy.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.