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Aidan Pustizzi’s Defensive Impact Propels Nashville Jr. Predators to Youth Tier II 18U 2A National Championship

By Tom Robinson, 04/07/24, 5:15PM MDT


Pustizzi recorded a goal and assist in the title game.

DELMONT, Pa. — Aidan Pustizzi scored the first goal of the championship game.

He assisted the eventual game-winner.

That goal lifted the Nashville Jr. Predators (TN) over the Anchorage North Stars (AK) 3-2 for the title at the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 18U 2A National Championship.

Arguably Pustizzi’s biggest contribution to the win may have been his role in putting a stop to the scoring.

A strong move by Pustizzi to the net drew an Anchorage penalty with Nashville protecting a late, one-goal lead. When the Predators used the man advantage and ensuing offensive-zone faceoff to keep up the pressure, they drew another penalty.

The resulting 5-on-3 power play for 1:56 of the final 2:16 thwarted Anchorage’s comeback push once and for all.

“Gavin Akers made a great play,” Pustizzi said. “He just pumped it forward. I put my shoulder down and drove far side to draw the penalty.

“I didn’t get the goal, but in the end, the penalty was the biggest part.”

Nashville controlled the puck for much of the power play, slowing the pace and running the clock down at that point were more significant than pursuing a power-play goal.

The teams had packed the bulk of the action into a little less than three minutes at the end of the second and start of the third periods.

Pustizzi’s first-period goal accounted for a 1-0 lead to that point.

Barrett Teasdale, who had assisted Pustizzi, began the scoring flurry with 2:28 left in the second.

Owen Melson answered 46 seconds later to cut Anchorage’s deficit to 2-1.

Each team then took a run at a major momentum swing.

Pustizzi assisted Colin Sullivan’s goal for a 3-1 lead eight seconds before the second-period buzzer.

“I chipped it up and Colin Sullivan made a great play, a great breakaway move, to put it in,” Pustizzi said. “They had momentum and that gave it to us.”

Any lift, however, was gone by the time the ice was resurfaced.

Brody Melocik scored for the North Stars just nine seconds into the third period.

By holding Anchorage scoreless the rest of the way, Nashville was able to complete a perfect, five-game run through the 2A Bracket, which featured two pools of six teams each.

The Predators could be regarded as somewhat of a surprise champion. They entered the tournament with a 26-17-1 record, leaving them closer to the bottom than the top of the field in terms of winning percentage and rankings.

“We’ve struggled all season trying to figure out systems that we’ve used in the past to be successful,” coach Tom Murphy said. “For some odd reason, we came together at the most important tournament of the season and for some of these guys, their lives.

“We had several tests that we failed throughout the year that we passed here.”

They also came through at the most important moments of the tournament.

Between a 23-6 scoring margin while sweeping three pool games and Sunday’s one-goal final, Nashville had to rally in Saturday’s quarterfinals and semifinals.

“Winners win,” Murphy said. “You do what you have to do to be successful.”

The Manchester Flames scored 1:08 into the quarterfinal, but not again.

Nashville answered with two power-play goals in the opening period. Liam Powell scored the second, off a Pustizzi assist, and added an unassisted goal in the third period.

The Casco Bay Mariners scored goals 14 seconds apart in the first period for a 2-0 semifinal lead, but Powell was at it again, leading another comeback. His power play goal with 8:47 left tied it, then he assisted the first of two straight Sullivan game-winners to end the tournament.

“Obviously it’s tough to be down 2-0 right away, but we just beared down and remained D-focused the rest of the way,” Pustizzi said.

Powell finished the tournament with nine goals and four assists.

“He just showed up and did what we needed him to do,” Murphy said. “I’ve known him for 10 years and known that he had it in him. It was just so great to see him rock ‘n roll.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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