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Orange County turns at-large bid into Tier II 16-U 1A National title

By Drew Silverman, 04/11/10, 3:45PM MDT


Orange County completed its dominant run through the USA Hockey National Championship, but it certainly didn’t come without a scare.

Fueled by two goals from Brett Gervais and a huge goal by Thomas Plese, Orange County finished off its stampede through the 1A conference in the Tier II 16 & Under division with a 7-4 win over the South Florida Golden Wolves in the title game on Sunday.

“I’m extremely proud of our guys,” OC coach Jim Bucar said. “We got an at-large bid and I told the guys we’re gonna come out and work hard like we had all year and represent our California region. And our kids stayed hungry the entire tournament. It’s hats off to them.”

In the first of four championship games at the Ice Line Quad Rinks in West Chester, Pa., the California kids dominated play against the Wolves, outshooting them 43-19. The final score would have been much worse if not for South Florida goaltender Thomas Cruz, who finished with 37 saves, including numerous spectacular stops.

“He kept them in it,” Orange County winger Lonnie Clary said. “I told him when I was walking through the (postgame) lineup that he kept them in it.”

The rematch was significantly more competitive than the first game between the teams — an 8-0 victory by OC on Friday. That contest was part of an unblemished run by Orange County, which outscored its five opponents in the tournament by a combined score of 46-7.

“It was an awesome experience for the kids,” Bucar said. “We’ve got a very happy bunch. It was well worth the trip.”

South Florida trailed in the title game 1-0 and 2-1 before battling back twice to tie the bigger, stronger Orange County squad. OC then scored three straight goals, compliments of Kyle White, James Mathias and Gervais, to take what seemed to be a commanding 5-2 advantage.

However, the pesky Wolves came back once again, closing to within 5-4 on Daniel Giffone’s breakaway goal with 9:13 to play. That momentum was squashed several minutes later, though, as Plese beat Cruz on a 2-on-1 to restore a two-goal lead.

South Florida had a late power play to try and cut into the deficit, but Orange County goalie Arthur Brey stood tall before Gervais’s empty-netter sealed the deal. Brey finished with 15 saves.

“Coming in, we knew it wasn’t going to be an 8-0 win,” Clary said. “We had to stay calm. Coach was just saying, ‘Don’t make mistakes. Keep the power on.’ But we got the win and it feels great.”

Nick Lynch and Austin Jenkins also scored for Orange County, while Kyle Overholt, Colby LeCain and Mitch Donnelly rounded out the scoring for South Florida.

“The other day, we didn’t play as well as we were supposed to,” said Overholt, who genuinely felt this was “the best game” he’d ever seen Cruz play. “But today, (as a team), we played a lot better. We got a couple of breaks and we got the puck in the net more.”

While Overholt was hard-pressed to accept the notion of a “moral victory,” he noted that it was a great learning experience for him and his Wolves teammates.

“Some of our players have never been to Nationals, including me,” he said. “It was still very good for us to come all the way from South Florida, play a great team and keep up with them.”

Clary departed from the Philadelphia suburbs with good memories, as well.

“Everything happened the way I pictured it,” he said. “Team functioning, team bonding, going to sleep early, waking up early, doing dry runs before the games, stretching, eating with the team, hanging with the parents, making new friends. It was a great experience.”

Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.