PLYMOUTH, Mich. — Gavin Weeks was the backbone for Buffalo Saints throughout the season.
He had to be.
As the only goalie on the roster, Weeks played every minute and made timely saves this year, which culminated at the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 14U National Championships. Weeks made 14 saves in a 2-1 victory in the Tier I 14U championship game on Monday against the Chicago Mission (Ill.) at USA Hockey Arena.
“He was our solo goalie all year and he just set the table for us all year,” Buffalo Saints coach Greg Collins said. “When you see him, going out there all the time, he was a warrior, he put us in spots to win all year, he was a rock.”
Weeks was steady from the start on Monday. Chicago controlled the puck for much of the first period, but despite an 8-3 edge in shots, still couldn’t score in the opening period.
In the second period, Weeks made two of his most important stops, first going left to right for a dazzling blocker save after a rebound, then stopping a breakaway to keep it 0-0.
“When I make that first big save all the pressure goes off,” Weeks said. “That’s when things start to become easier for me, the pressure goes the other way.”
Weeks eventually let up a goal midway through the second on the penalty kill. Chicago’s Lukas Zajic skated and controlled the puck from the point and took a lane to the net where he was able to flip a shot over Weeks’ shoulder for his fifth goal of the tournament to put the Mission up 1-0.
“When we went down 1-0, we didn’t really worry. They didn’t panic, they’ve been in spots like this before, they were ready,” Collins said. “So I felt pretty good about this team knowing what to do when they end up in that spot.”
He was right.
By limiting the damage in the first two periods, the Saints had enough room to mount a comeback. The Saints tied the game 1:22 later when a floating point shot by Joshua Henry made its way through traffic and past Mission goalie Jake Windbiel, who made 18 saves in the game.
Rudolfs Berzkalns cleaned up a rebound with 15:10 remaining in the third period to give Buffalo its first lead, which Weeks helped secure as the championship-clincher for the Saints.
Dain Gordon created the initial chance on a zone entry, working his way around a Mission defender and firing a hard shot low on the stick side. The rebound kicked to the slot where Berzkalns was able to rifle home the rebound for his team-high sixth goal of the tournament.
Weeks only had to make one save in the third period. When the final buzzer went off, his teammates all raced towards him for the post-win celebration.
“It was super exciting,” Weeks said. “It’s been a long year and we’ve gone through some ups and downs through it all, but we won a national championship, that’s amazing.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.