WEST CHESTER, Pa. — Gabrielle Nagahama does not appear anywhere in the top scoring statistics for the Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls’ Tier II 19U National Championships.
It was Nagahama’s defensive persistence, however, that produced the unofficial assist that led to Grace Crowley’s game and tournament-deciding goal.
Crowley scored with 2:57 left in regulation to complete a comeback and lift the East Coast Wizards (Massachusetts) over the Wisconsin Selects, 2-1, in the 2A championship game.
Wisconsin scored first and had held a 24-19 shot advantage in the game. But with the game tied, it was a defensive play that produced the best offensive chance.
“I play defense in every sport I play,” Nagahama said.
Nagahama said she saw a free puck in the neutral zone and “decided to go for it.”
When she did not get there in time, Nagahama instead turned into a forechecker, applying pressure just inside the blue line and forcing the Wisconsin stickhandler out of the middle.
The pressure sent the play right to Crowley, who made a steal near the right point and immediately headed in behind the defense. Crowley made her way to the middle and kept cutting left until scoring the winner on a backhand.
“Grace came out of nowhere, I had no idea she was right behind me,” Nagahama said. “As soon as I saw the puck on Grace’s stick, I knew that we had a really good chance to score.”
Crowley finished the tournament with three goals and three assists, second on the team to Jenna Lynch, who had seven goals and three assists.
“Grace has that move down pat,” Wizards coach Michael Milofsky said. “She was just very calm. All the girls are.”
The way the play unfolded opened up one of Crowley’s favorite moves.
“I saw that the puck might shoot out there,” Crowley said. “I got lucky that it jumped over her stick and I was able to float around their last girl. I decided to keep going, pull around the goalie and it worked out pretty well.
“I usually like to go to the backhand when I have a chance like that and I just impulsively did what I thought was best and the goalie moved so I went with it.”
The last of 250 games played by 72 teams across six divisions in five days resulted in a thrilling game at Tier II Girls’ Nationals. Both teams arrived at Monday’s final a perfect 5-0.
Lynch scored twice and the Wizards won in a shootout over Massachusetts rival, the Boston Jr Eagles, in the semifinals.
Wisconsin had allowed just one goal in its previous four games to get to the final, which it reached on Chloe Lemke’s 22-save shutout in a 1-0 victory over Little Caesars.
The Selects scored first in the final on Tristan Wicklund’s goal less than two minutes into the second period.
Zoe Tow tied it midway through the second period.
The championship was the second of the day for Massachusetts teams on the same ice sheet in West Chester. As the Wizards waited for the Zamboni work to finish during pregame, they had time to congratulate the 14U 2A champion North Shore Vipers, who in turn encouraged them to bring another title back home as they swapped motivational messages.
The Boston Jr Eagles were also impressive before their elimination, leading the 19U-2A teams in scoring with 25 goals in five games.
Liv Brooks from the Jr Eagles led all scorers with 10 goals to go along with two assists.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.