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Grand Rapids Griffins send coach out with a Tier II 14-U 4A National title

By Roman J. Uschak, 04/11/10, 3:30PM MDT


The Grand Rapids Griffins got the one goal they needed in the semifinal round. They got three in the final to claim their first-ever national title.

One day after posting a 1-0 victory over the Romeoville Huskies, the Griffins used two third-period goals at the Ice Vault in Wayne, N.J., to claim the 4A Conference of the USA Hockey Tier II 14 & Under National Championship with a 3-1 win over the LA Hockey Club.

Grand Rapids head coach Scott Mills said that his team was built with a national championship in mind.

“We set that goal two years ago, but fell a little bit short,” said Mills, who also won a national title as a player. “I told the boys this team was built to go to Nationals, and I told them they had the caliber to win.”

Tyler Brewer broke a 1-1 deadlock with 13:46 remaining in the third period, and Colin Rabach added an insurance empty-net marker with 1:49 left to bring a title back to West Michigan. For both players, those were the only goals they scored in the tournament.

The Griffins struck first following a scoreless first period, but only after Calvin Wojtaszak couldn’t convert a penalty shot early in the second stanza. Sam Renneker put Grand Rapids ahead just 1:11 later when he knocked home a rebound in front, with just more than 13 minutes left in the period.

The Griffins were outshooting LA by a 9-1 margin at that point, but the opposition would answer soon enough. Nick Katzaroff made it 1-1 just 1:38 after Renneker’s goal, when he fired in a shot from the top of the right circle.

“We started off a little nervous,” LA coach Sandy Gasseau said. “We had a really good second period, and we felt good going into the third.”

The deadlock lasted until 2:14 into the final frame, when Brewer jammed home the puck in front after being set up by Justin Chop.

“We knew we were basically playing for overtime,” Mills said. “Whoever did capitalize was probably going to win.”

The Griffins held on until LA was forced to pull goaltender Mitchell Privett for an extra attacker, and Rabach ultimately sent the puck down into the empty net.

“We thought we would get that (tying) goal,” Gasseau said, “but it didn’t go our way.”

Privett finished with 22 saves, while Jarred Felt stopped 17 shots for Grand Rapids. Felt finished with a 4-0 record in the tournament, allowing just four goals in four games. The Griffins as a whole allowed just eight goals against in their six outings, using tenacious defense to key their potent offense.

“We had three strong lines,” Mills said. “We played defense, and we capitalized on mistakes.”

Gasseau said he didn’t know exactly what kind of team he would have this season when tryouts were held last fall in California. He said his squad made adjustments and gained momentum along the way, though, all the way to Sunday’s title game.

“If you told me we’d be in the National finals tied 1-1 after two periods, we’d have taken it in a heartbeat,” he said.

“They did a good job,” Mills said of LA. “They’re fast and skilled, and we had to play them physically.”

Mills said he would enjoy the 12-hour bus ride back to Grand Rapids, even if it marked the last time this Griffins team would be together. It was also the last time he himself planned to be behind a bench, as he is retiring from coaching.

“It’s my last hurrah,” he said. “I wanted it to end in Nationals, and by God if they didn’t do it for me.”

Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.