SAN JOSE, Calif. – Long Island Gulls netminder Ryan Denes made 16 saves and Grant Young scored the game-winner as the Gulls downed Little Caesars, 2-0, to claim the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 16U National Championship Monday at Tech CU Arena.
“It was a great hockey game,” said Vinny Smith, head coach of the Long Island Gulls.
“They took it to us for stretches, and we defended and finished when we had to. We’re with these kids every day and we’ve been together for eight-and-a-half months, so to be able to get that feeling and accomplishment is surreal. These kids are so selfless; their fight, their will and their passion showed in that game. They’re just amazing.”
Both teams had several great chances, with Little Caesars nearly taking a lead just past the halfway point of the second period as Brecken Smith flew out of the penalty box, picking up the puck off Aidan Brown’s clear, but Denes was equal to the task.
Just one minute later, it was the Gulls who had a big chance as Jack Genovese picked off the puck in the neutral zone and sent it to Ryan Wachtel, who fired it from the slot and picked up his own rebound to get a second shot off, but Little Caesars’ Owen Lepak came up with two big saves to keep things scoreless.
The Gulls finally broke through on the power play in the third after 37:40 scoreless minutes. Young fired a shot top shelf from the right circle off a feed from Wachtel at the point to give Long Island a 1-0 lead.
John McNelis sealed Long Island’s win with an empty-netter with just four seconds left to play.
The championship marks the first 16U national title for the Long Island Gulls after the team fell just short last year, finishing second in the 16U division.