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Overtime Theatrics in Vegas

By Justin Felisko, 04/03/24, 8:30PM MDT


Yale Jr. Bulldogs and Central Mass Penguins earn dramatic victories at second day of the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier 1 18U National Championship.

LAS VEGAS – Never say never at the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships.

Within an hour-and-a-half on Thursday afternoon, the Yale Jr. Bulldogs and the Central Mass Penguins each pulled off thrilling overtime victories to keep their national title hopes alive at the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier 1 18U National Championship at City National Arena.

Giovanni DiGiulian put the Bulldogs on his back late against the Rhode Island Saints when he first tied the game at 2-2 with 2.1 seconds remaining in the third period by deflecting home a rocket from Andrew Pitts.

“Pittsy shot it from the point, and I got a stick on it,” DiGiulian, still in somewhat disbelief, said. “I didn’t know it went in, but it did.”

The Cornell University commit then rocketed up the left boards in overtime, splitting two defenders before ripping home the game-winner 1:31 into the extra period to propel the Bulldogs to a monumental 3-2 win.

“He was flat-footed, and I took advantage of it,” DiGiulian said. “I went around him, and that low blocker was wide open, so I just ripped it.”

The Bulldogs are now 2-0 this week in Las Vegas and are in the mix for a national title. Tune into all the remaining Nationals action, and watch every game live and on-demand, exclusively at

DiGiulian said the Bulldogs, who’s players spend a portion of the season competing for prep schools in New England, are rallying together upon the common goal of winning at the national level.

“This win is pretty big,” DiGiulian said. “Obviously we want to end it on a good note here and we are going for something bigger than a regional championship. That would have been a tough loss, especially after beating them a couple of times earlier in the year. So, we wanted to come through there and luckily we got it done.”

Fellow teammate Archer Brown sparked the Bulldogs rally from a 2-0 deficit when he found the back of the net with 8:53 remaining in the game.

Brown said there is certainly a belief inside the locker room despite how challenging winning a national title can be.

“It is very hard, especially at this level, but I have all the faith in our group,” Brown said. “We come from all over, but we are all leaders on our prep season teams. Coming together we can put that aside and play fast.”

Shawn Conner, head coach of the Bulldogs, told his team on Tuesday following their 5-3 victory over the Anaheim Jr. Ducks that no game at nationals would be easy, and that will certainly be the case on Wednesday Yales squares off against the also undefeated Central Mass Penguins (3:30 p.m. ET |

“We told them, no game is going to get easier,” Conner said. “Yesterday we battled, first game back and trying to get our feet underneath us a little bit. Traveling across the country, etc. really get better each period. Take a shift, get better, get better, get better. We did that today.

“We knew it was going to be a dogfight, and tomorrow is going to be a dogfight as well.”

Coincidentally, Central Mass had its own remarkable comeback immediately after Yale’s victory.

Central Mass was trailing the Ducks 3-1 with 40 seconds remaining following an empty-net goal from Anaheim’s Ty Izadi on the other ice sheet inside City National Arena and appeared headed to a loss.

However, Luke Goukler gave the Penguins some hope just six seconds later with a goal off the ensuing faceoff to get Central Mass back to within 3-2. Tanner Hunt then sent the Central Mass bench into pandemonium when he jammed home a loose puck in front of the net with only 3.6 remaining in regulation to force overtime.

“I was just there to finish up the trash,” Hunt said. “When they scored that third goal, a lot of our hope was gone, but we scored that second goal and we were like, ‘We have a chance.’

Similarly to Yale, Central Mass would not let their second chance go for naught either as Goukler, a Merrimack commit, would strike again 45 seconds into overtime for the game-winner on a 2-on-1 rush.

“Bronson (Hunt) dropped it to me in the d-zone, so I skated it up. We then had a 2 on-1 and the D took him and I looked him off and shot it short-side,” Goukler said.

“Obviously, our momentum has skyrocketed. All the boys were buzzing, and it was good vibes on the bench. It is pretty cool. All the boys loved it.”

 Goukler said it is not lost on him that some of his teammates may be hanging up their skates following nationals this week and the goal is to make sure they can end their careers with a championship.

“Some kids, it is their last year playing hockey, so we are a tight knit group, and we love each other,” Goukler said.

Hunt added, “A lot of the boys said we were coming to Vegas for a business trip. We really want to win this thing. We have a really good shot at it. We have the group to do it. Everyone works really hard.

“This game is a big momentum shift for us. We realized we have to come out a little bit harder. The past two games we have went down 1-0, so we are learning from this. We have a lot to look forward to.”

 Greg Thomas, the head coach of Central Mass, was shaking his head walking off the ice on Wednesday afternoon.

Thomas looked at some of his fellow coaches and simply asked, “Did that really just happen? Unbelievable.”

He knows his team will have to be better Thursday against the Bulldogs, but he is proud of his players for rallying with their backs against the wall.

“We all are a little shocked a little bit,” Thomas admitted. “We were a little lucky, let’s not kid ourselves. Even though we were down, the kids kept coming, coming and coming. A tribute to all of them. They worked hard. This is a big confidence booster. Anaheim played really well, especially defensively and their goaltender was excellent. The boys showed, even with not much time left, that they can pull it off.

“It is a very good confidence booster for us, and hopefully it is going to help us down the road.”


The Boston Jr. Eagles picked up an overtime victory as well on Wednesday evening when Aidan Connors scored with 3:21 remaining to help the Eagles defeat the Sioux Falls Power, 4-3.

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