IRVINE, Calif. — The Oklahoma City Oil Kings came into this year’s tournament look to avenge a semifinal loss, and to officially put Oklahoma hockey on the map.
Matthew Domanchuk scored a power-play goal with 2 minutes, 26 seconds left in regulation to lift the Oil Kings to a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Fire in the 1A title game of the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 18U National Championships at Great Park Ice and FivePoint Arena.
“It’s hard to believe,” said Domanchuk, who was part of the team that lost in last year’s national semifinals. “It’s been almost three years in the making with this group of boys. I love these guys, man. I love these guys.”
What helped to make Monday’s national championship even better was how the Oil Kings came together. A core of this 18U team has been together since the 16U level, although a few players left for juniors. But it was the players who a year ago weren’t thinking they would be playing 18U who helped make a difference.
Even though Oklahoma City is the largest city in the state, the number of players slated to play for the 18U and 16U teams was down. The decision was made to consolidate into one 18U team, which made for some growing pains.
“Earlier in the year, there were a lot of ups and downs and questions and the kids just stuck with it and loved on each other — and that's what you can see on their faces in the locker room right now,” said Oklahoma City coach Shane Kalaf, who coached this core at the 16U level. “It’s there. It’s just absolute joy and it just means everything to me to see smiles on their faces.”
Over on the Atlanta side, there were plenty of tears as the players walked off the ice, some for the last time with the Fire. And they went down battling.
“We set a lot of goals this year and achieved the majority of them,” Fire coach Kyle Stevenson said. “We wanted to win our league regular season title and league playoff title. We won a few tournaments, got here and kept advancing and got to the final game. We had a good game against a very, very good team. I’m very proud of these guys.”
Early on, it looked like there might be a repeat of the teams’ tournament opener Thursday, won by Oklahoma City, 9-2.
Lyric Pittenger scored his sixth goal of the tournament when he got the puck after a faceoff in the left circle, went behind the net and stuffed the puck past Fire goaltender Connor Lakly with 5:45 left in the first period. Oklahoma City made it 2-0 when Domanchuk led a 2-on-1 break. While his shot was stopped by Lakly, the rebound went right to Karson Glass, who punched in his third goal of the tournament with 10:49 left in the second period.
But unlike Thursday, Atlanta quickly rebounded. Just 1:19 later — and 36 seconds into a power play — Nicholas Pecora scored his first goal of the tournament during a scramble in front of the net to make it 2-1.
It remained a one-goal deficit until midway through the third period when, during a power play, George Campbell took a cross-ice pass and fired a one-timer from the top of the left circle past Anthony Lacroix II’s glove and inside the far post with 7:48 left in regulation. It was his third goal at Nationals.
That set up a tense finish, with parents, family and other loved ones on both sides nervously reacting with every shot, save or breakaway.
When Oklahoma City’s Parker Hassebroek went off for tripping with 4:54 left, it gave Atlanta’s power play a chance for a third goal with the man advantage in five tries. But Lacroix stood tall between the pipes, making a couple of clutch saves to keep the game tied.
“Your head is in the game, so you really aren’t thinking that much, you’re not worried about anything but stopping the puck,” Lacroix, who gave major props to his defense’s performance all game, said of his mentality during the crucial Fire power play.
With seven seconds left in the penalty, the Fire’s Connor Sandkuhler was whistled for roughing. Just 34 seconds later, Domanchuk scored the goal that he will remember for the rest of his life.
“It means everything,” Domanchuk said. “It really does.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.