MAPLE GROVE, Minn. — It was the speed of the Sun Valley Suns (ID) which allowed them to put their stamp on the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 18U National Championships.
In the 1A championship game on Monday morning, the Suns struck the back of the Jr. Blue Hens’ (DE) net with efficiency and flair. The Suns’ smooth finishing led to 6–3 win and a national title.
The high-intensity offensive show was just what Sun Valley coach Russell Jenson wanted to see from his team.
“Full throttle, don’t force the puck, use each other and back each other up,” Jenson said. “That’s how we stick to our game.”
Much of the Suns scoring was spurred on by Dawson Speth, who scored a goal in all three periods to cap off a hat trick.
“Dawson is a stud of a kid, he’s such a good player,” Jenson said. “Our captain, Zach Benson, was another key for us, I think he led this weekend in points for everybody.
“I’m just proud of these boys.”
Benson racked up a goal and an assist to take his points total to 13, tying him with Speth for the most points in the tournament.
Benson grabbed his goal just 11 seconds into the third period, which put the Suns up 5-1. Despite two unanswered goals from the Blue Hens later on, it was Benson’s goal which launched the Suns’ confidence even higher.
“Once we were up early, we never came off the gas,” said Suns goalie Clayton Elsbree. “We’ve been a third period team all weekend, we finished strong here and left no room for error.”
Elsbree was right, as the Suns outscored their opponents 9-3 in third periods throughout the tournament.
All of Sun Valley’s preparation and organization paid off at the end of their season, which saw the Suns win their state championship just weeks before taking the national title in Maple Grove.
It was all business for Jenson and his team at nationals, but even his usually stoic players let the emotions all pour out as they realized the title was theirs.
“There couldn’t be a better way to do it,” Jenson said. “You hear the crowd, the moms and the dads, the families here. There’s no better way to end it for the kids.”
Talking shortly after the trophy ceremony, all of the post-championship emotions had yet to set in for Elsbree.
“It’s something I’ve never felt before. Right now it’s just euphoria, it’ll sink in a little later,” Elsbree said. “I couldn’t be more excited for the boys, they’ve worked so hard for this. It’s all paid off now.
“We have a lot of people back home watching us, giving the utmost support. It feels so good bringing it home for them. We’re not known for our hockey, so it’s incredible to prove something here.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.