AMHERST, N.Y. — It was a clash of climate opposites for the 2A championship in the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U National Championships.
The sun and desert of Arizona against the darkness and chill of Alaska. It was the team familiar with natural outdoor ice which took the championship, as the Alaska Valley Thunder (AK) defeated the Jr. Sun Devils (AZ) 2-1 in a tight, tense game.
“It was back and forth most of that game,” Alaska coach Jamie Smith said. “And then we turned the tide in the third period.”
With the score tied 1-1 heading into the final period, Alaska poured it on, outshooting the Jr. Sun Devils, 16-2, and finding the game-winner.
“We’re deep enough where I’m rolling all three lines,” Smith said. “They’re rolling two lines most of the time. I knew we could get to them.”
As for the winning goal, it was something the Thunder work on in practice.
“We have this drill where we have a forward come down one side and shoot it, and our guys look for a rebound,” Smith said. “And it worked out perfectly. Our top guy threw the puck at the net, and it rebounded right to our guy in the middle and he put it away.”
The guy who threw the puck at the net was Afanasy Efimov, with Brody Richard putting it away. The goal came one second past the middle of the third period at 8:31.
“I was just going hard to the net, and I just buried it,” Richard said.
After a scoreless first period, the Jr. Sun Devils struck first at 9:56 during a scramble in the slot. Gavin Benjamin finally pounced on the loose puck to put it home.
At 11:21, Alaska tied it on a Mason Holler shot from the left point on the power play. This set up the dominating third period for the Thunder.
“It was a good game,” the Jr. Sun Devils coach Scott Shafer said. “We kept it close. I’m proud of the boys. They left it all on the ice today [Monday].”
“Really proud to represent that fork and what Arizona hockey is capable of. We realize we come from the desert and not a lot of people realize hockey is a thing up there. We’re really excited about our future as a program.”
Alaska swept through the tournament going 6-0-0, including a 5-4 victory over the Jr. Sun Devils on Thursday. The rematch proved to be another close battle, and it led to a result years in the making for their coach.
Smith has been coaching for 33 years, and this is his first national title after coming close a couple of times in the past.
“We had two overtime games and both of those games ended in a shorthanded goal,” he said. “So, when it finally ends up like this, maybe it was meant to be.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.