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12U Livonia (Mich.) Knights enjoying unexpected trip to nationals

By John Trachina, 03/29/12, 9:30AM MDT


McKINNEY, Texas -- Several times this season, it didn’t look like they were going to make it this far at all, so for the Livonia Knights girls’ 12-and-Under team, just getting to the USA Hockey Tier II National Championships tournament this week in the Dallas suburbs is a real treat.

It also seems kind of fitting that a team from the Michigan town where former Dallas Stars great Mike Modano was born is now competing for a national title in a hockey outpost that probably wouldn’t exist without Modano’s ability to sell the game in North Texas during his 21-year NHL career.

But it was the remarkable path the squad traveled to get here that really stands out. Knights coach Joel Massa noted that he considered his team one of four or five that could make it through the state tournament, and when they wound up facing the Michigan Icebreakers in the final, the squad began to believe.

“All year long, we thought there were three or four teams we could compete with just to be in that championship game,” Massa said. “We were happy just to be there, and then we realized that the one team that we really hadn’t won against all year got knocked out in the semis, so now we’re playing a team that we had beaten four out of five times.”

It was an emotional roller-coaster ride of a title game, back on March 11, and for a while, it appeared the Knights’ season would be over.

“We had beat [the Icebreakers] in the first round-robin game 1-0, so it was a tight game then,” Massa recounted. “This time, we gave up a goal late in the second period, our girls were deflated, didn’t want to go out for the third period. We got out there, the clock kept running and running, finally got a time-out with 1:09 left, face-off in our zone, down 1-0, and girls are crying, they’re just assuming we’re going to lose.

“We got the puck, break out down into the other end, pull the goalie, threw the extra attacker out for the goalie, they tried to clear it, she intercepted, took it down low, got it to the net. The rebound came out, they tried to clear it, Julia Seychel got it at our point, shot it, and tied it with 19 seconds left.”

Vivian Kowalske then scored 1:56 into overtime to clinch the championship for Livonia and punch their tickets to Texas.

“It was quite a change of reaction from most of the girls, bawling their eyes out, thinking they lost, and then we got the incredible victory,” Massa said. “To be down and to win it like that, we’re just happy to be here. A lot of those girls, it’s the first time they’ve ever been here. It’s been a great season and I’m very pleased with how the girls have played.”

And while the Knights lost 4-1 to the Minuteman Lady Flames Wednesday in their National Championships opener, Massa was pleased with the performance of his goaltender Victoria Audette in the game, maintaining a 1-0 lead late into the second period, despite being outshot 41-8.

“It was a good learning experience for our girls,” Massa said. “We really only lost like five games in our league games all year. We’ve played a lot of boys’ teams where we lost and got some ties, but overall, against girls’ teams, we’ve had real good success. That team was almost like one of the Tier I teams we’ve played this year. But our goalie stood on her head, she played outstanding.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.