SAN JOSE, Calif. – The first time the Long Island Gulls met Little Caesars this season, it was a high-powered, high scoring game with the Gulls ultimately emerging victorious, 5-4.
The two teams meet again tomorrow in the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey Tier I 16U National Championship after Long Island came back from a 2-0 deficit to take down the New Jersey Rockets, 6-3, and Little Caesars topped the Chicago Mission, 4-1, in today’s semifinal games.
The Rockets came out buzzing, taking a 1-0 lead just 42 seconds into the game after Kuzma Voronin sent home a one-timer off a on-the-knees pass from Niko Tournas behind the net. Maxwell Pendy doubled New Jersey’s lead less than a minute later, scoring from the slot off a feed from Vincent Bronzo.
A ferocious second period from the Gulls would be the difference maker, with Thomas Zocco getting Long Island on the board at the 4:33 mark, picking up his own rebound and deking out New Jersey goaltender Gusts Valantis. Grant Young tied things up just over five minutes later, connecting with Malachi McKinnon, carrying the puck the right side and netting one from the top of the circle.
John McNelis gave the Gulls the lead with 5:05 remaining in the middle frame, picking off a pass in the neutral zone, carrying the puck in and firing a shot from the left dot. Logan Goodman scored what would be the game winner minutes later off a sneaky net-front play with Young to head into the third with a 4-2 lead.
Joseph Macrina made things 5-2 for Long Island just past the 10-minute mark, stealing the puck off a New Jersey forward’s stick, flying into the zone and slipping the puck past Valantis on the doorstep.
New Jersey found the back of the net again with 6:48 to play in the period after Ryan Lukko beat Long Island netminder Ryan Denes from the high slot, but an empty net goal from McNelis kept the Gulls decisively in front as Long Island skated to a 6-3 win.
After a scoreless first, Little Caesars’ Brecken Smith broke the ice at the 2:44 mark of the middle frame, sending a one-timer stick-side past Chicago goaltender Charlie Durkin. Benjamin Tauscher and Ryan Ickesearned assists on the play. Chase Nyitray then doubled Little Caesars’ lead from the high slot, going bar down off a pass from Luke Melnik. Little Caesars then pulled away 3-0 after Smith picked off the puck on the penalty kill and sent it to Mason Benedict, who netted one from the right circle with 1:52 to play in the second.
Chicago, still on the power play, answered back 52 second later with a one-timer from Justin Bartley off a pass from Luke Matthews behind the net to head into the final period trailing by two.
Little Caesars took back their three-point lead with 1:53 left in the game, with Benedict and Smith connecting again for an empty-net goal to seal the game at 4-1.