With the Mid State Mustangs in need of a signature play to put away an upstart, pesky opponent, Sammy Lafferty stepped up to help lead his team to a national championship.
The Mustangs’ forward took the puck on the right side, knifed through three defenders and slotted home a close-range shot to give Mid State (Altoona, Pa.) a much-needed insurance goal late in the third period of a 7-4 victory over the Florida Jr. Panthers in Sunday’s USA Hockey Tier II 16-and-Under 2A National Championship game at Skate Quest Ice Rink in Reston, Va.
“I knew we needed one to kind of put the game out of reach,” said Lafferty, who had two goals, two assists and earned game MVP honors. “I got the puck and saw the seam, and I just hit it, waited out the goalie and just put it in.”
Stefan Horgas and Bobby Polachek worked a give-and-go about two minutes later, with Horgas coming up with the goal that sealed the tightly contested championship game with three minutes remaining.
“Eventually some guys made some great plays down the stretch to make them pay, and as a team we just wore them down,” Mustangs coach Michael Bowman said.
Florida, the only Tier II U-16 team to reach a final despite not winning its division in pool play, put forth an admirable effort even though it had just 14 skaters available. The Jr. Panthers also played eight periods on Saturday, including a thrilling double-overtime upset of St. Louis’ favored Affton Americans, to reach their first-ever national championship game.
“It was a great ride getting here,” Florida coach Jared Brackett said.
The Jr. Panthers held one-goal leads on two occasions in the first period. Mid State’s Macky Power negated Freddie Kaub’s beautiful opener, only to have Florida’s Brandon Veliky answer 21 seconds later on a deflected shot to give the Jr. Panthers a 2-1 lead.
Mustang forward Daniel Moscone leveled the score again just 40 seconds after that when a shot off the boards rebounded directly to him in front of the goal.
Moscone scored again at the end of the first period, and Lafferty tallied off a wrister midway through the second to give Mid State a 4-2 edge heading into the final frame.
That’s when the real drama began.
Florida pulled within one just seven seconds into the third period after a dumped puck off the opening faceoff took a fortuitous bounce off the boards to Carlos Fornaris, who scored into a vacated half of the net.
“With a goal like that you never know how your team is going to react, but these guys stepped right back up to the table and kept coming at it,” Bowman said.
Power scored his second goal of the game with 7:58 remaining to rebuild the two-goal cushion, but Florida’s Hunter Johnson pounced on a loose puck in front of the goal after an extended possession in the attacking zone to bring his team within 5-4 at the 5:36 mark.
Less than 40 seconds later, Lafferty turned in his spectacular effort to tilt the scales in the Mustangs’ favor for good.
“We played a tough team,” Brackett said. “They have some very skilled forwards, and we had a couple of defensive breakdowns and just couldn’t recover.”
Mid State’s skilled forwards carried the team to its title. The Power-Moscone-Lafferty line combined for 26 goals and 26 assists in the club’s six games and accounted for six goals and three assists in the championship.
“For three guys on one line to each have that many goals, that means they’re sharing the puck and distributing the puck and they’re playing the game the right way, the way it’s meant to be played,” Bowman said. “It’s quite a privilege to have that kind of offensive firepower whenever you hit the ice.”
Moscone led the 2A pool with 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists), followed by Lafferty with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) and Power with 14 (10 goals, four assists).
“Our line definitely has a lot of talent,” Lafferty said. “We’ve been playing together for like three years. We don’t even have to look, we know where everybody is going to be on the ice at all times. It’s just great chemistry, and we were able to be successful this tournament.”
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): 16 & Under