AMHERST, N.Y. — The state of Alabama has its first USA Hockey national champion thanks to the Alabama Thunder.
Playing in the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U National Championships, the Thunder defeated the Charleston Jr. Stingrays (S.C.) 5-3 in the 1A title game.
“It was what I expected,” Alabama coach Lance West said of the game. “It was back and forth. I thought we played very well defensively. We got the bounce and got the goal.”
Alabama jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, but then had to withstand a Charleston comeback that led to the game being tied 3-3 heading into the second intermission. A goal midway through the third period by Miles Daehn proved to be the game-winner.
“I was down in the offensive zone just grinding it out,” Daehn said. “I saw the puck and just shot it on the net and saw it go in.”
Originally, it looked like clear sailing for the Thunder. Ashton Lambert took a slapshot from up high which was originally saved, but it bounced up and over the goalie for the power-play tally 6:29 into the game to put Alabama up 1-0.
“Our power play has been really good all year,” West said. “The top five guys can really move the puck. We had one power-play goal in every [tournament] game.”
Less than three minutes later, Alabama’s special teams struck again, but this time while shorthanded. Owen McDougal raced down the right side and put the puck into the opposite upper corner.
Two minutes later, Lambert scored again on a beautiful pass from Kory Piper from behind the net. Lambert’s quick redirect from the slot left the goalie with no chance.
The 3-0 lead didn’t last long — just 23 seconds — before the Stingrays, and Owen Buzon, began their comeback.
“All season long we teach our kids, we don’t accept quitting,” Charleston coach Matt Mons said. “And that’s anything in life. We’ll just keep at it and keep pushing.”
Buzon scored three unanswered goals to tie the game and cement a natural hat trick.
After the late first period tally, he scored twice later in the second period. From the right side, he snuck one by glove side. Then, left wide open in the slot, he took a pass from the corner by Peyton Sommer and whipped it by the goalie on a one-timer. The three goals gave Buzon a team-high six in the tournament.
“Owen is a shooter,” Mons said. “He had the hot hand today.”
A potential runaway now turned into a nail-biting third period. The Thunder re-took the lead when Daehn scored his first goal of the tournament after a turnover.
“I liked the way we played all night long,” West said. “Even when we were giving away a little momentum, our guys didn’t panic.”
The clincher came with 49 seconds left when Charleston was trying to pull their goalie. Lambert completed a hat trick of his own by shooting it into a virtual empty net with the goalie scrambling to get back into the crease. That gave Lambert his team-high sixth goal of the tournament.
Kristofer Hatch made 18 saves for the win.
“That’s a really good team. They’re deep,” Mons said. “Three solid lines. D-men that can move the puck. You just can’t make any mistakes. We got exposed a few times.”
A first-year program went all the way to the top of the mountain, going 5-0-0 in this tournament.
“We’re trying to build a program where kids can stay close to home,” West said. “Excited for the guys to get their first championship. Proud to be part of it.”
“It’s incredible,” Daehn said of the title. “Especially coming from the South, everybody doubting us.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.