A year later, many of the faces have changed for the North Dakota Starz, but the results are very much the same.
The Starz repeated as USA Hockey 16-and-Under Tier II national champions, defeating regional rival Team South Dakota 6-1 in the 1A championship at Skate Quest Ice Rink Sunday in Reston, Va. The championship was not only the second consecutive for the Starz, but it was also the third in the last five years for North Dakota’s powerhouse youth team.
“It means a lot for our program,” Starz coach Wade Storey said. “The tradition that we’ve had coming to the tournaments the last six or seven years means a lot to these kids. They understand the tradition that we have back home, and they work hard for it. They put the team in front of themselves, and the end result is that our journey comes to this every year, so it’s what we expect to do.”
Chase Bischof netted a hat trick to lead the victors, who never trailed and blitzed their opponent with relentless forechecking, team defense and non-stop pressure from the onset to secure the result.
“Pressure all over the ice is what we like to do, and those are the kinds of players we try to develop,” Storey said.
It didn’t take long for the motivated Starz to assert themselves in the game.
Left winger Alex Schoenborn hit the post 25 seconds after the opening whistle, and Bischoff tallied his first goal on a smooth backhanded finish less than a minute later to give North Dakota the early lead.
Jake Breidenbach doubled the advantage midway through the first period off a third-chance rebound, and Bischof one-timed a pass from Brett Becker for a power-play goal 28 seconds into the second period to put South Dakota in a 3-0 hole.
Team South Dakota seized momentum later in the period, though, as Zachary VanLiere pounced on a turnover near center ice, carried the puck just inside the blue line and fired a wrister into the net to get his team on the board.
Moments later, the team’s leading scorer, Austin Loes, was robbed by Starz goalie Eric Melland. That theft was followed soon after by South Dakota having another shot hit the inside of the right post. Had those two moments unfolded differently, there’s no telling the effect they could have had on the outcome.
“It’s one of those things were these kids always keep on playing hard,” South Dakota coach David Benson said. “You get a couple bounces that don’t go your way. ... You thought the momentum was turning.”
After North Dakota first-line defenseman Logan Matzke was forced out of the game with a right leg injury early in the third period, the Starz recaptured all momentum and put the game away.
Bischof completed his hat trick on a breakaway down the right side, and Becker scored off of the ensuing faceoff to build the lead up to 5-1. Schoenborn deflected Dexter Guidinger’s shot into the goal with 9:33 remaining to cap the scoring and ice another national title run for the Starz.
North Dakota is certainly a deserving champion, as the team won all six of its matches and overwhelmed its opponents by outscoring them 44-5 along the way to the title.
“[An assistant coach] told me, ‘Win tonight and walk together forever,” and that’s what we accomplished,” Bischof said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
Bischof was the top overall scorer in the 1A pool, tallying 17 points on 10 goals and seven assists in six games while taking home championship game MVP honors.
“He brings a lot of speed to the table,” Storey said. “He’s worked hard as a player to improve his skills, and it’s starting to pay off for him. He’s got a lot of potential, and if he continues to work hard, he’s going to pave a future for himself somewhere down the road.
“Two years ago he probably wouldn’t have been able to do that, but he’s worked hard on that skill. I never expected it out of him this tournament, but he stepped up to the plate, and his goals were big goals. He’s an impact player.”
The victory for Bischof and his teammates over their Northern Plains District rival was the sixth in six tries this year, but the fact that both teams from the region reached the national championship speaks volumes about the growth of the game in that area of the country.
“Hockey is continually getting better out in Dakota territory,” Benson said. “We’re catching them, and it’s just fun. North Dakota and South Dakota out here in Washington D.C. — it’s neat to see that.”
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): 16 & Under