It was the matchup everyone envisioned and anticipated at the USA Hockey 14-Under Tier I National Championship game on Sunday in Hackensack, N.J. When top-ranked Belle Tire from Michigan outlasted No. 2-ranked Chicago Mission 6-5, neither team was surprised that the battle was once again decided late in the game.
Belle Tire’s Anthony Petrella scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with 3:36 left in the third period when he fired a shot from the left faceoff circle. The shot bounced off Mission goaltender Trey Jones and into the net for a 6-4 advantage.
But 17 seconds later, Chicago rallied back when Ryan Wagner fired a slap shot between the pads of Belle Tire goaltender Cody Gibson. The goal cut the lead to 6-5 and ignited the Mission for the final three minutes.
Earlier, the game was also intense. Belle Tire moved out to a 4-2 lead in the second period before Chicago rallied for two goals in the final three minutes to tie the game.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Belle Tire players couldn’t jump on top of each other in celebration soon enough, while the Chicago team’s persona came to a sudden halt. Belle Tire had won its fourth contest against its rival, tying one in the process. They had earlier defeated Chicago 6-2 in the quarterfinal round on Friday.
“In the final moments, the possibility of wining a national championship finally hit me,” said Darby Llewllyn, who had two goals on the day, including the goal that broke the 4-4 tie. “I was also happy to finally see the puck go in the net as I was working really hard all weekend.
“We have been going back and forth with them all year. But I felt a lot more calm knowing that we beat them a few days ago. This is the biggest moment for me and my family because my brother got to a national championship game a few times and didn’t win it.”
“We always have a high-scoring game with these guys,” said Gibson, who recorded 19 saves. “This has been a rivalry with them the whole year. It was busy in front of me, but our defense did a good job. We beat them earlier and it gave us some added momentum for the rest of the tournament.”
It was also a sign of relief and joy for head coach Joe Smaza, who is in his fifth year behind the Belle Tire bench.
“It felt like the clock couldn’t have moved any slower,” Smaza said. “We put this team together a year ago and all of the hard work paid off. This was basically the same group we had last year.”
Yet, Smaza downplayed the triumph over Chicago.
“No, it wasn’t,” said Smaza when asked if the victory had any added significance. “The reason it might have been sweeter was because we were ranked number one and they were number two. We were fortunate enough to beat them earlier. We were just hoping to get out there, get a lead and hold momentum.”
Smaza was proud of his players and his goalie.
“Cody Gibson is one of the best goalies in the country,” he said. “He played in the semifinal game for us and we had confidence in him. Cody has some strong defensive play in front of him and we added some timely goals. It was a true team effort.”
Despite the loss, the Mission appreciated the play of its rival.
“It is a good, healthy rivalry between us,” Mission assistant coach Bob Nardella said. “We went to the max and that is quite an accomplishment. This team has a lot to be proud of. It was a good team that became better.”
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): 14 & UNDER