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North Dakota Starz show drive in claiming Tier II 16-U 3A National title

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


Congratulations, you just won the USA Hockey Tier II 16 & Under Conference 3A National Championship. What are you going to do next?

You think you’re going to Disney World? You think you’re going to be in a parade?

Think again.

You’re heading back to North Dakota. And you’re going to be doing your homework all the way there.

“This was really fun and exciting,” a beaming Zach Holmen said after his team’s championship victory. “But now I’ve gotta go do my math homework.”

That’s right. From forechecking and backchecking to geometry and trigonometry in a matter of minutes. No one said being a teenager was easy, but when you’re a hockey champion, it sure is fun.

“It feels great to be on the winning side,” said Matt Verke, whose family was leaving right from the rink to drive back to North Dakota — a 23-hour drive. “It was a great experience.”

It’s a good thing Verke has a portable DVD player, an iPod, and a shiny gold medal to keep him company.

Thanks in part to Holmen and Verke, the North Dakota Starz were able to edge the Affton Americans 3-1 in the championship game of the 3A bracket on Sunday.

The Starz received goals from Casey Fugleberg, Jarrett Olson-Etches and Alan Zahui. Bryan Nies contributed 17 saves, including a big stop on Scott Leslie with 6:30 to play.

“Defensively, our goalie was solid in net,” Verke said. “We struggled (defensively) at first, but we got the puck out of the zone when we needed to.”

North Dakota allowed a total of 13 goals in winning all six of its games in West Chester, Pa. In addition to the strong play from Nies, Lawrence Dvorak went 2-0-0 in the tournament.

“I think we did a good job getting the puck out of the zone,” Holmen said. “I think we had some good rebound control and we all worked pretty hard.”

The Starz opened the scoring midway through the first period when Conor Jonasson capitalized on a turnover and fed Fugleberg for a short-handed goal. But just 47 seconds later, the Americans capitalized on the power play on a tally by Nick Edwards.

Olson-Etches scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period and Zahui’s nifty deflection off a blast from Keaton Thompson capped the scoring in the third.

Despite allowing three goals, Affton netminder Justin Ragland played very well in keeping his team in the game. He finished with 25 saves and emerged as one of the most impressive players in the 3A tournament.

“We knew that we’d be able to hold our own if we played our game,” said Ragland, who went 4-1-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average. “The guys we played today were a really good team, so we had that knowledge going into the game. But we knew we could do well as long as we played our game. … We didn’t win the game, but we worked as hard as we could.”

Leslie, the Americans’ leading scorer in the tournament, was held without a point in the championship game. The day before, he had recorded a hat trick to help Affton defeat the Gulf Coast Flames in the semifinals.

In all, Ragland considered the tournament a success for his team and a stern message to the doubters back in Missouri.

“In the beginning of the season, a lot of people at home didn’t think we’d do well,” the goaltender said. “They thought we’d come here and just go 3-and-out. So we proved a lot of people wrong by coming up here and making it to the championship.”

For now, Ragland and Holmen will get back to hitting the books. And Verke will get back to his DVD player.

Speaking of which, that DVD player played a very appropriate movie on the long drive from North Dakota to Philadelphia.


Sounds about right.

Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.