KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The Maine Gladiators completed their undefeated run at the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 14U National Championships, defeating the Atlanta Fire, 3-1, in Monday’s 1A finale in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“I’ve been with a lot of them for some seven, eight years now so it’s just a joy to see them succeed and come out with a win,” said Gladiators head coach Chris Pomerleau. “I’m very thankful for each one here that continued to strive to do their best.”
Atlanta jumped out to an early 1-0 lead with a power play goal from Owen DeBrody. The Fire found themselves on the man advantage after Brody Emond was penalized for an interference minor 3:03 into the first period. DeBrody’s second goal of the competition beat Gladiators goaltender Gabriel Pomerleau 15 seconds after the Emond infraction.
The Gladiators would settle into the game spending most of the remainder of the first period in the Atlanta zone. Though the Gladiators had the 7-5 shot advantage heading into the second period, it was the Fire who would start the middle frame on top.
“They got that early goal on us on the power play, but even strength we had them,” said Pomerleau. “We knew we could beat them 50-50, and we’ve got kids that are stronger so we just kept working.”
The Gladiators continued to hem the Fire in their own zone for a majority of the second period, but would have nothing to show for it until the final minute of the period.
Unable to convert on their second power play of the game halfway through the second period, the Gladiators would get another opportunity with 1:06 remaining in the period. After Atlanta’s Luke Beinhower was called for tripping, the Gladiators broke through on the power play after Breck Langevin beat Fire netminder Conor O’Brien to tie the game, 1-1, with 23 seconds remaining.
“We knew coming out of there, getting that goal late in the period was huge for us and having the momentum going into the third [period],” said Pomerleau. “We just needed to continue to work and keep doing the things we did in the first and the second.”
The Gladiators outshot Atlanta, 15-2, in the second period and opened up a 22-7 shot advantage through two periods.
After both teams had chances to take the lead throughout the third period, the Gladiators would find the breakthrough with 3:31 left. Brody Emond found himself with the puck in an odd-man situation and took it himself to beat O’Brien short-side high, tucking the puck just under the crossbar to give the Gladiators the 2-1 lead.
The action wouldn’t end there as the Gladiators were on their heels in the final 2:49 of regulation after the Fire pulled their goalie in exchange for an extra attacker.
The Fire thought they had tied the game after DeBrody fooled Pomerleau behind the net and almost tucked home a wraparound goal, but the referee signaled no goal as the net became dislodged prior to the puck crossing the goal line.
Less than a minute later a shot from the point beat Pomerleau and was sliding past the goal line. As a few Fire players were whacking at the oscillating puck, the net once again became dislodged before the puck crossed the goal line, resulting in no goal.
“Our team picks each other up when we’re down,” said Pomerleau, who ended the game with 12 saves. “I just got in a rhythm making the saves I needed to save and let my team score the goals we needed.”
With 54 seconds left in the game, Benjamin Dumais funneled the puck into the empty net, giving the Gladiators a 3-1 lead.
Dumais fired the loose puck down the ice and into the wide-open cage to give his team a two-goal cushion and solidify the victory to send his teammates into a frenzy once the final buzzer sounded.
“My gloves were in the air and I was very happy,” said Pomerleau. “We’re never going to get a chance to win Nattys with the group again, but it was a really good experience and I will remember this forever.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.