LITTLETON, Colo. — Each time the Littleton Hawks (CO) lit the lamp on Monday afternoon against the Cheektowaga Warriors (NY), the walls inside the Edge Ice Arena rattled.
It took until deep into the overtime period at the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 14U National Championships, but the Hawks harnessed that home-ice energy to secure a 4-3 victory to win the 3A title.
A mad scramble in front of the net saw Colton Lien connect with the loose puck, hammering it home to kick off the celebration and complete his hat trick.
“Winning in front of the home crowd and getting lucky enough to host nationals here, it’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” Lien said. “I don’t have words for it. It’s really hard to describe.”
It was the Warriors who got on the board first, with Cole Miller scoring on a power play at 6:27 remaining in the opening period. Miller buried another goal during the first minute of the second period, this one at even strength, to put the Hawks in a 2-0 hole.
Littleton threw a counterpunch quickly. Going on a power play just one minute after the two-goal deficit, Lien peppered the Warriors’ defense and scored unassisted. Ten minutes later, Lien netted his second goal when he was set up by Connor Makowski.
Tied at 2-2, the energy in the Hawks’ barn intensified, reaching a fever pitch when Makowski tallied a goal of his own with 8:26 to go to give Littleton its first lead.
For the final five minutes, the Warriors dominated possession in their offensive zone, eventually breaking through on Joseph Aiello’s scrappy rebound with 47 seconds remaining, sending the game to overtime.
The Hawks had the extra gear in overtime, consistently winning battles for loose pucks and maintaining more possession on the offensive end. Littleton coach Justin Gour and Lien credited sustained success to the forecheck.
“We changed our forecheck about 10 minutes into the first period and right after that, the whole attitude changed,” Gour said. “I remember saying, ‘OK, we’re ready to go now, boys,’ because we really started getting all over them. At the end of the day, that was the best thing for us because the other team was exhausted.”
The Hawks are yet another champion for the self-anointed Hockey Capital, USA, in Denver. Last year, the Colorado Avalanche, the University of Denver, Denver East High School and the Pee-Wee Jr. Avs all secured national championships at their respective levels, kicking off a combined hockey celebration in the city.
That celebration continued today, as the Littleton Hawks won the 3A titles in the 14U and 16U Tier II tournaments.
Goeb said hockey has always been strong in the Denver suburbs, particularly those south and west of the city. But the coach hopes that this championship will further spur growth for the sport for local kids.
“It’s a dream come true. We’ve been pushing it hard after [Sunday’s] late OT win,” Gour said, referencing the Hawks’ 4-3 win over the Ashburn Xtreme (VA). “Late OT-winner in that one and again today. It’s a surreal feeling and there’s nothing but smiles.”
“It’s even more special because our 16U team brought it home in New York, and the 18s had a great showing as well,” Gour said. “All of the Hawks organization had a great showing this year. We just want to continue to grow and continue down this path that we’re on.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.