MAPLE GROVE, Minn. -- Those watching didn’t have to wait long for goals in the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 18U National Championships 2A title game on Monday.
Cameron Cote of the Arizona Bobcats found the back of the net not once but twice within in the first four minutes of the game. From there, the Bobcats were able to hold their lead despite a strong fight from the Nashville Jr. Predators to secure the title with a 5–2 win.
The Bobcats were coming off a national title last year in the 18U 3A division, and the core of returning players were motivated for more, Arizona coach Brent Gough said.
“At the end of the day, you want to win a national championship,” Gough said. “Last year, we got that opportunity winning the 3A division in Anaheim and we had about seven returning players from that team. So they knew what it took to win.
“Those guys were a driving force this time too. They really got this team in the right direction.”
This year’s tournament didn’t start the way the Bobcats would’ve liked. They opened play on Thursday with a tight 4–3 loss to the Montgomery Ice Devils of Maryland. However, leaning on their experience, the Bobcats were able to right the ship quickly as they battled through a series of close games to earn a spot in the title game.
Until the championship, Arizona had played in just one game that was decided by more than one goal.
Nashville took a similarly unwavering path to the title game. The Jr. Predators won their first five games, including four of them by a single goal, before meeting Arizona.
The Bobcats set the tone early.
“The first shift, we had really good puck movement,” Cote said. “We ended up scoring, and that just set the bar really high for (Nashville). We kept up the pressure and had a good rush all game long.”
Jason Hammett came up big throughout the title game for Arizona. After assisting on both of Cote’s early goals, he got another helper on Ryan Jim’s second-period goal that made the score 3-1. Then, Hammett sealed it with a power play goal with 40 seconds remaining.
Hammett ended the tournament with six goals and 11 points, both of which led the team.
The Jr. Predators didn’t go down without a fight, though. Justin Dickinson cut the score to 2-1 in the first period, and Kyle Barbarite got another one back shorthanded in the second period to send the game into the second intermission 3-2.
The tight score only turned up the intensity between the two teams. This led to a flurry of penalties, especially in the third period as Nashville tried to mount a comeback. A game misconduct penalty on a Nashville player with 1:14 to go pushed emotions on both teams to a boiling point. The Bobcats players tried to keep cool heads with only seconds until the final buzzer.
“We kept our hands down, kept our heads on straight,” Cote said. “We didn’t take any retaliation penalties or force a power play.
“(Nashville) was a great team. They have nothing but respect for us so we can’t do anything but give that back to them.”
For Arizona, the second consecutive national title capped off a year of hard work and growth.
“Every game you’ve got to get better,” Gough said. “At the beginning of the year, you can be a great team but if you don’t get better, everyone else is climbing that ladder as well and they’ll eventually catch you.
“That’s exactly what these kids did. You know, September and October those can be long months. But give credit to (the players), they come to practice every day and come hard in games. Now, we get to cap it off with a national championship.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.