Christopher Wilkie scored with just four seconds remaining in regulation to lift the Omaha Junior Mavericks to a 4-3 decision over the Southern Rhode Island Junior Rams in the 2A conference title game on Sunday at the USA Hockey Tier II 14 & Under National Championship at the Ice Vault in Wayne, N.J.
“I came around from the blue line, and it came right to my stick on my backhand,” Wilkie said of the puck.
“It’s the greatest feeling in my life,” Omaha’s Hunter Hurt said of the championship. “For a lot of us, it was our first opportunity.”
“It felt like we took turns,” Omaha coach Scott Turner said of the back-and-forth nature of the game. “Our goalie stepped up and got it done. He made some big saves, and the leadership of our team showed.”
Omaha goaltender Jason Bruckner finished with 29 saves in net, as did Junior Rams netminder Mitchell Proulx.
Turner, who didn’t know if he would have a full team for the first game because of flight delays at their Chicago connection, said his players woke up after falling in overtime in their opener, a game they had led.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “These teams are too good. You can’t give up five or six shots (in a row) because every mistake will end up in the back of your net.”
Southern Rhode Island coach Roger Grillo admitted his team was disappointed by the end result, but gave kudos to Omaha.
“Our kids played hard,” Grillo said. “Give the other team credit. They capitalized on an opportunity, and they deserved it.”
The teams traded goals in each of the three periods. Dominic Grillo opened the scoring for Southern Rhode Island just 5:30 into the contest following a face-off in the Omaha zone. The Junior Mavericks got that one back with 2:40 left in the opening frame, when Wilkie launched a rocket from the blue line that clanged off the crossbar and in.
“I just let it go,” Wilkie said.
Omaha took its first lead of the game less than two minutes into the second session, as Jack Suter skated down the left side and then cut back into the middle before firing the puck past Proulx. Suter then had a chance to put Omaha up by two goals when he was awarded a penalty shot with 11:33 left, but couldn’t convert as he cut to his forehand in close.
“I just whiffed, pretty much,” he explained.
The Junior Rams made it 2-2 on a power play with 10:12 left in the second period when Joe Manown drove to the net and scored his whopping 17th goal of the tournament. Rhode Island then went back on top with 11:28 remaining in the final period, when Brandon Couture deflected a shot home. Omaha responded on a power play with just 5:14 left, with Gunnar Roswell doing the honors.
The two teams then appeared to be headed to overtime until Wilkie struck late.
“Hats off to the people who ran the tournament, it was phenomenal,” Grillo said. “It was a great experience for our kids, and it was first-class from top to bottom.”
“It’s the first National Championship for Omaha,” said Turner, who played for both the Omaha Lancers and the University of Nebraska-Omaha. “Bringing it back feels really good, and I’m really proud.”
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Suter said.
“It’s unbelievable,” Wilkie added. “It’s amazing, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): 14 & Under