McKINNEY, Texas -- It’s become somewhat of a tradition for the Connecticut Polar Bears to be the last team standing, with gold medals hanging around their necks. And Sunday, their Tier II 16-and-Under squad earned the legendary program its second straight USA Hockey National Championship at that level.
With a thrilling 4-3 triumph over the pesky San Jose Jr. Sharks in the final, the Polar Bears won for the second consecutive year at this level, although it was with an almost completely new roster.
“Only one girl was on the team last year, so everybody else, it was their first time in a national championship game. It was really special,” noted Polar Bears coach Maggie Kennedy. “I’m so happy for the girls, they really worked hard the whole year, they battled the whole way, and I’m just so thrilled that they got to enjoy this, with smiles on their faces. I felt bad for the Sharks, but I’m so happy for them.”
The Polar Bears almost didn’t make it back to the final, but they managed to pull out a nail-biting 3-2 victory in the semifinal Saturday night when Rachel Muskin scored in the fourth overtime period to defeat the East Coast Wizards.
“That was big, that was tough, [winning] with two minutes left — that was very exciting,” said Muskin, who earned an assist in the final and led the entire tournament with 10 points (five goals, five assists) in six games. “I didn’t know how to react, I just kind of stood there with my hands up and went, ‘Yeah!’”
“They showed a lot of heart in the overtimes [Saturday] night, and we didn’t want that to be for nothing, so we just came out ready to play [in the final],” Kennedy said. “They were all bruised up and tired, but at this point in the season, you just got to fight through it, and that’s exactly what we did. I think the adrenaline just kept them going, so it was great for the girls.”
The result ended a memorable run for the Jr. Sharks, who won three overtime contests in the tournament, two of them after tying the score in the final minute, and they nearly did it again in this one.
Trailing 4-2 late in the third period and with their goaltender on the bench for an extra attacker, San Jose pulled to within one with just 36.9 seconds left when Keiko DeClerck scored her fourth goal of the tournament. Another charge to the net with eight seconds to go resulted in another opportunity, but Taylor Chisholm’s shot rolled wide.
“Four of our six games went into overtime and we brought it back within one with a minute to go again, so it was exciting,” said Jr. Sharks coach Karl Schoech, whose team defeated the Potsdam Ice Storm 4-3 in overtime in the semifinal. “And even in the last 10 seconds, we had a play at the net. Great effort by a very young team. Eight of these girls are under 15 years old. We’re really happy to get this far, to compete. Yeah, you lose by one in the last game, but at the same time, there’s not a loser in there, they’re all winners, big-time winners.”
“It was back and forth all game; we got a couple of go-ahead ones, but the Sharks never gave up,” added Connecticut coach Kennedy. “They had us on our heels at the end. To get that goal so late in the game, we got a little nervous, but we handled it well and it was just a dogfight until the end. It was a great game.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): 16 & Under