MCKINNEY, Texas — Joey Wall not only was able to see his team win a national championship, he even played in the title game.
Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at Halloween, the Woodbridge, New Jersey, Wolfpack captain underwent two surgeries before returning to play in mid-February.
“The boys rallied around him,” coach Mike Bronzo said. “He continued to be our inspiration.”
That inspiration culminated in a 3-0 victory over the LA Jr. Kings that gave Woodbridge, just across the Arthur Kill from Staten Island, its first national championship.
Woodbridge swept six games in five days by scoring 34 goals, the most of any team in the USA Hockey-Chipotle Youth Tier II 14U National Championships. For the tournament, Wall had two goals and an assist.
“We’re both an offensive team and one that can play defense,” Bronzo said after the championship game. “We can play either way. We believe in each of our systems. We’ve played in those games where we battled.”
That proved to be important going against the LA Jr. Kings, a defensive-minded team that had allowed just seven goals in winning its first five games in the national championships in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The Wolfpack showed they could beat the Kings at their own game.
The win didn’t come easily. The game was scoreless until Ryan Kapp scored at 1:14 of the third period. Bronzo said, “It was just a scrum where we put the puck to the net.”
With five minutes to play, Wolfpack goalie Andrew Barron stopped a shot by Blake Osoria that would have tied the game for LA. The score remained 1-0 almost to the final minute.
After the Jr. Kings pulled their goalie, Owen Oglevee was credited with a goal as the puck barely trickled into the net with 1:11 to play.
“It was a lucky goal,” Bronzo said.
The verdict was sealed with 29 seconds left, when Ryan Lukko also scored into an empty net for the 3-0 winning margin.
It was Woodbridge’s first championship on its fourth trip to Nationals.
Bronzo said, “We won eight straight to get district, then state and here. In all three championship games, Andrew Barron had a shutout.”
In the national championship, he made 17 saves.
Lukko assisted on Kapp’s goal, scored at least once in all six national tournament games and led the Wolfpack with nine goals, five assists and 14 points. Vincent Bronzo had five goals and five assists for 10 points.
Mike Bronzo won his first championship, though he was an assistant coach for a different New Jersey team that won a national championship.
The Wolfpack’s inspiration, Wall, said he was confident of overcoming cancer.
“I told my parents I’d come back to play in February, and I did,” he said. “I made it fast but I had to battle through it.
“When we came to districts and states and won, I knew we had a chance to win here.”
Wall said he had no lingering effects from the cancer or the surgeries: “Now I’m 10 weeks out and I feel exactly like I was ‘til I got the cancer.”
The Jr. Kings didn’t score more than four goals in any national tournament game and totaled just 17 in the six games. Their leading scorer was Korey Cardenas-Aston with four goals and an assist for five points, all in the first three tournament games.
LA’s closest call was in the first game of the eight-team group that advanced past the first round robin. Dylan Toth scored the game-winning goal in a 4-3 win over the Boston Jr. Eagles.
The Jr. Kings qualified for the championship game by beating Arvada (Colorado) 4-2. Along the way, goalie Camden Mueller had 25 saves in shutting out Simsbury (Connecticut) 4-0.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.