Rochester, Mich. – The gloves flew in the air and the Rochester Saints dogpiled onto each other. They had just defeated the Long Island Gulls, 3-1, to claim the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 16U National Championship.
“I’ve never been so hype in my life,” said captain Owen King. “This is just a surreal feeling, I can’t even believe it. I’m so happy for the team.”
It was not an easy road in the game for the Saints. In fact, they had to come from behind early on.
The Gulls got on the board early in the first. After earning a 5-on-3 power play, Logan Renkowski found the back of the net to make it 1-0. Jamison Sluys and Thomas Zocco picked up the assists.
Rochester would tie the game later in the first on a power play of its own. Jack Plandowski scored the goal, his first of the tournament, with Brendan Boring and Ryan Bunting assisting. The Saints would take a 2-1 lead a minute and a half after. Following a turnover by the Gulls, Nicholas Shaw found a streaking King who beat his man and fired the puck far side for the goal.
The score would remain 2-1 heading into the second period. The two teams traded chances in the middle frame, but neither team could find the back of the net, keeping it 2-1 heading into the last period of regulation.
The Gulls fought hard in the third but could not find the equalizer against goaltender Paul Dalessio. Following the early power play goal, Dalessio stopped every shot he faced, stopping 29 of 30.
“It doesn’t feel real, it feels like a dream still,” Dalessio said. “Last year was such a tough year for us and we came back and won it. We have gone down to them every time this year and come back from it, so it’s a surreal feeling.”
The Saints were able to add an empty net goal off the stick of Boring. That’s when the hugs started happening on the bench. The 18U team, who stuck around to watch the 16U battle for the championship, were celebrating near the Saints bench. It felt like to the Saints that the feeling they were chasing all year was going to come to fruition.
“When we scored that goal, it felt like the game ended right then and there. We still had a minute left, but it still felt amazing,” said King. “We believed all year that if we played together and played as a family we would end up as champions. That’s what we did, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The Saints finished the tournament undefeated after winning the NHL group. After defeating Culver Academy, 2-1, in the quarterfinals, the team got an overtime winner in the semifinals to move onto Monday’s game. Additionally, the handed Long Island its first loss of the tournament.
The road was not easy for Rochester, but the accomplished the goal they set out to do.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said King.