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Thunderbirds 16-U brings Colorado its first Tier I National title

By Kent McDill, 04/11/10, 2:15PM MDT


The 16 & Under Thunderbirds are the first Tier I National Champion from the state of Colorado.

Led by the outstanding play of goaltender Payam Sami, the Thunderbirds completed the weekend assignment by beating the North Jersey Avalanche 5-1 on Sunday in the title game of the USA Hockey Tier I 16-U National Championship at Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge, Ill.

“North Jersey was very good, very skilled,” Colorado coach Angelo Ricci said. “Our goal was to slow them down in the neutral zone, and we did that.”

The game turned in the first period when North Jersey had a power play but gave up a short-handed goal to Colorado’s Austin Ortega. It was one of three first-period goals for the Thunderbirds, who got their own power play goal with two minutes to go in the first period.

The other Thunderbird goals were by Josh Racek, Brad Hawkinson, Jerad Tafoya and Ansel Duesenberg. Hawkinson finished as the leading point-getter in the 16-U tournament with three goals and five assists in seven games.

Sami said his job changed thanks to the three first-period goals.

“That took a lot of the nerves off of me,” Sami said. “But we didn’t give up even with that lead.”

The Thunderbirds did not lose a game in the tournament, completing a 15-game winning streak dating back to the middle of March. In the elimination games starting with the quarterfinals on Saturday, the Thunderbirds beat their opponents 13-1, shutting out Long Island Royals and L.A. Selects. The Avalanche goal came with 14 seconds left in the game on Sunday.

Sami played five games in goal for the Thunderbirds during the tournament, giving up six goals out of 94 shots faced. He faced 21 shots against North Jersey.

“My defense did a great job in front of me,” Sami said.

The Avalanche beat Shattuck-St. Mary’s 3-1 in the quarterfinals and Detroit Compuware 3-2 in overtime in the late semifinal on Saturday night.

“The overtime took a lot out of us,” North Jersey coach Dan May said. “We finished late and didn’t have much rest. I knew we were tired about five minutes in (on Sunday).”

The Thunderbirds beat the Avalanche 4-3 in a five-round shootout in the first game of the tournament on Thursday.

“I wish we had given them a better game, but I believe Colorado was the best team in the tournament,” May said.

“We gave them a real good game but today was came up a little hesitant,” North Jersey forward Justin Selman said. “If we had scored on our first power play, it would have been a different game.”

Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.