DE PERE, Wis. — It happened so fast that Alaska Oilers head coach William Avoletta didn’t even see the goal.
That’s a shame, because it will go down as one of the biggest goals in the Oilers’ program history.
In a back-and-forth game, the Oilers notched a score just 3:56 into overtime to give the team a 4-3 victory over the Rogue Warriors in the 1A title game of the USA Hockey-Chipotle Youth Tier II 18U National Championships on Monday in De Pere, Wisconsin.
The Rogue Warriors (25-7-3) had beaten the Oilers (31-7-2) by a resounding 6-2 score in the opening round of Nationals, but today’s rematch would require overtime.
“This team never gives up, they fight through adversity,” Avoletta said. “Had to kill some power plays, gave up a power play goal. We just bared down and stuck to the plan, never gave up and kept working.”
Continuing to endlessly work is exactly how the game-winning goal was scored. Oilers forward Tay Kurpius brought the puck to the front of the net, threw it off the pad of the Rogue Warriors’ goalie and Berntsen was there at the side of the net to push it in.
“Me and Tay, we always have that play to push it and back door. We said, ‘If it gets past, we’re winning this,’” Berntsen said. “It just happened.”
Berntsen immediately skated over to the half boards to celebrate. He was mobbed by all his teammates. Not a bad way to win a national title.
“It feels unreal,” Berntsen said. “To win it with the team, it’s just crazy. Unexplainable.”
Oilers goalie Maxwell Dupree — who is the youngest player on his team, just turning 17 a few days ago — watched the play develop almost 200 feet down the ice. When he saw the puck go in, craziness ensued.
“I screamed and I skated as fast as I could,” said Dupree, who stopped 23 of 26 shots he faced. “I was out of breath before I even got there.”
All the smiles and elation on the faces of the Oilers players weren’t existent just eight and a half minutes earlier. The Rogue Warriors had just taken a 3-2 lead on a goal by Zachary Robinson with 4:36 remaining in the third period.
But the Oilers players never panicked; they were ready to rebound and send the game into overtime.
The Rogue Warriors were called for a minor penalty with 3:26 on the clock to give the Oilers a much-needed power play. Almost a minute later, Marc Abrego poked in a rebound to even the score.
Prior to overtime starting, Avoletta had a message for his team.
“I just told them, ‘Don’t change anything, get the puck deep. I think if we can get past their defensemen, we can go to work and good things will happen,’” he said.
The Rogue Warriors had a few chances in overtime, but, ultimately, the Oilers pulled out the come-from-behind win.
“It’s just a series of mistakes,” said Rogue Warriors head coach Aaron Ward, who won three Stanley Cup titles during his 15-year NHL career. “It’s the way the game’s played, no matter if it’s youth hockey or the National Hockey League. It’s a mistake that creates an opportunity and them capitalizing. So, it’s a turnover, it’s a costly penalty. You can’t get frustrated with the game, because that’s the way the game’s played.”
The game took a wild turn of events after it was tied 1-1 heading into the third period.
The Oilers were assessed two penalties and the Rogue Warriors had a 5-on-3 advantage for 59 seconds.
“Oh my gosh, when the 5-on-3 happened, I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re in trouble,’” Avoletta said. “We’ve been watching their team online, and they’re fantastic. That number 7 [Robinson] and 9 [Luke DiPasquale], they’re dangerous. We killed the 5-on-3 and at that point, I said, ‘We’re going to win this game.’”
Berntsen scored his first goal of the game almost midway through the third before Robinson put in back-to-back goals for the Rogue Warriors to give them a 3-2 lead.
Dupree knew that when his teammates forced overtime, things looked promising.
“I’ve played with those kids a lot and they’re great in OT,” Dupree said. “That’s how we won state last year, in OT. We’re a great overtime team.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.