MCKINNEY, Texas — Getting behind 2-0 in the first period of the USA Hockey-Chipotle Youth Tier II 14U National Championships 2A title game didn’t bother the Alaska Stars.
They had come back from adversity so many times this season that they knew that script very well.
Sure enough, the un-star-crossed Stars rallied to tie the game in the first period, take a two-goal lead in the second and hold on to beat the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes, 5-3, at the StarCenter in McKinney, Texas.
Goals by Burke Newton and captain Willie Lierman brought the Stars even at 2-2. Britton Bethard scored two second-period goals, with the second coming just two seconds before the period ended. Carolina’s Sullivan Swiersz scored his second goal of the game 36 seconds into the third period to cut the lead to 4-3, but Alaska’s Fischer Sims scored to regain the two-goal advantage barely a minute later.
Stars goalie Hayden Zernia made 17 saves.
It was the Stars’ first national championship since their current coach, Todd Bethard, was playing bantam hockey when the Alaska All-Stars knocked off Detroit Little Caesars.
“And I’m old,” he said.
That could not be said of the current Stars.
“They’re mostly ’07s [birth years], so we could be good next year,” Coach Bethard said. “But we have outstanding ‘06s— Willie Lierman, the captain; Hunter Heisten, Fischer Sims. They lead by example.”
The adversity? Let us count the ways.
For starters, Heisten said, “We struggled with COVID and rinks getting closed.
“We all have motivation because a lot of us ‘06s got cut from one of the biggest teams in Alaska.”
Even an earlier trip to Texas from chilly Anchorage, Alaska, in February didn’t go as planned.
“Getting stuck in Austin wasn’t fun,” Lierman said. “We were in a showcase with a couple great teams. We played the games but it was really cold. The power was out when we got there. The pool at our motel was frozen.”
And consider the adversity just at Nationals.
The Stars lost their first game to the Utah Golden Eagles 5-2. Alaska won its second game, but then lost 3-1 to the same Jr. Hurricanes who also reached the final.
“We hadn’t had a real game in six weeks,” Todd Bethard said. “It took a while to get back to our systems.”
With a 1-2 record, the Stars could have missed the cut to eight teams remaining eligible for the championship. They earned the eighth seed and the dubious right to face top-seeded Team South Dakota, which had rolled past three opponents by a combined score of 20-5.
“We just barely made it in eighth,” Heisten said. “I don’t think most of the teams think much about Alaska.”
As a result, it was possible that South Dakota underestimated the Stars. Alaska outshot South Dakota, took an early lead and won, 6-2, with Patrick McSharry finishing a hat trick with two empty-net goals.
The Stars were back to their systems, which included controlling pucks coming in and out across the blue lines.
“We did not change a thing,” coach Bethard said. “It’s a battle of inches, and you’ve got to win. We played with only four defensemen with one injured.”
Lierman had another explanation: “We weren’t getting shots to the net. We weren’t getting greasy goals.”
Yet again Alaska had to rally to reach the championship game. It took a game-ending goal to give Ryder Millar a hat trick and the Stars a 6-5 victory over the Tri-City (Washington) Jr. Americans.
All that remained was to defeat Carolina, which had beaten Alaska three days before. The Jr. Hurricanes themselves had had to scramble in the most keenly contested of the three 14U divisions. Carolina was defeated, 4-1, by Tri-City on the first day and had to win four in a row to reach the championship game.
Utah and Tri-City each came one goal short of winning a semifinal game and reaching the championship.
The scoring leaders for the teams that did make it to the title game were the Stars’ McSharry — four goals, four assists, eight points — and Carolina’s Zachary Kodesh — three goals, four assists, seven points.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.