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‘Who Dem’ Ice Dogs from Hatfield claim 18-U Tier II 3A title

By Marty Gitlin, 04/03/11, 2:15PM MDT


The chant rained down from the crowd.

“Who Dem Ice Dogs?” they shouted and repeated.

“Dem” Ice Dogs were the players on the Hatfield hockey team, which had just won the USA Hockey 18-Under Tier II Division 3A National Championship on Sunday in Gates Mills, Ohio. The convincing 7-3 victory for the Philadelphia-area squad over top-seeded Team Toledo prompted them to pick up where their fans left off.

“Who Dem Ice Dogs?” the Ice Dogs themselves screamed out as they posed for pictures after a triumph they’ll never forget.

But it was a team not on the ice they could have thanked for aiding their cause. That was Team Cleveland, which extended its cross-state rival from Toledo to five overtimes in an epic 4-3 semifinal loss on Saturday night. The combination of exhaustion and physical nature of the Hatfield players had Team Toledo a stride behind through most of the championship game.

Following a dominant second period by the Ice Dogs, the only question that remained was the final score. That scenario didn’t appear likely after Toledo’s Ben Torchia tallied off a Connor Frey assist to knot the score at 2-2 five minutes into the period. But Hatfield scored four goals in the next seven minutes to all but ice the victory.

Two of those goals were registered by Kevin Melone with Michael McCarthy, Joseph Camerlengo and Frank Trocino all recording assists. The other two were tallied by Tyler Vanderslice and Jake Merana with Charles Dunton, James Tierney, Michael Merana and Matthew Williams recording assists.

Meanwhile, Ice Dogs goaltender Paul Sjostrom was turning away shot after shot despite several flurries in front of the net. His team was actually outshot 39-36 but he was up to the task. And when it was over, he wore the same wide smile that could be seen on the faces of all of his teammates.

“I just tried to make saves by getting out in front of the puck and making sure I was squared up,” Sjostrom said. “This is amazing. I can’t believe it. I was here [with a 16-Under team] two years ago and we didn’t get out of the quarterfinals. I didn’t think I’d get this chance again.”

Team Toledo coach Dennis Roudebush understood the effects of the five-overtime marathon victory Saturday night, but he also praised the Ice Dogs for their performance. He believed their style of play added to his own team’s disadvantage.

“The boys were very tired,” he said. “You could see us just breaking down. We weren’t getting into the passing lanes and into our defensive coverage. I thought the first five minutes was our best time of the game.

“But Hatfield has some monsters on defense and [Sjostrom] played well. They’re a solid team. They’re the most physical team we’ve played and they had a good game strategy. They deserved to win.”

Team Toledo indeed hung around for a while. It forged a 1-0 lead six minutes into the game on a rebound goal by Dalton Carter that was assisted by Eric Brown (who scored the winning goal in the fifth overtime Saturday night) and Nolan Culver. But Hatfield answered with two goals just 15 seconds apart. The first was scored by Steve Falcone unassisted and the second was off a breakaway by Camerlengo from Tyler Markley and Neil Laessig.

When Team Toledo tied it at 2, a fight to the finish appeared likely. But the second-period flurry by the Ice Dogs quickly removed all doubt. Hatfield coach Tom Laessig spoke to his team before the game about taking advantage of the fatigue expected from Team Toledo.

“We kept pressuring them,” he said. “We’re not the fastest skaters, but we bring a lot of heart. We also had three power-play goals. That allowed us to put our best puck-handlers and shooters out there. Our fourth line was unbelievable. And we got solid goaltending. If we made a mistake defensively, [Sjostrom] fixed it.”

The thrill of victory was summed up by Camerlengo.

“I can’t believe we’re national champions,” he exclaimed. “This is what every kid dreams about.”

The Ice Dogs became the first Delaware Valley Hockey League team to snag a national title. It’s no wonder they were chanting after the game.

Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.