Angus Johnston scored 1:02 into the third period to cap a comeback by Oklahoma City. But this wasn’t just any comeback.
Johnston was in the right place at the right time, and his score provided the margin of victory as Oklahoma City defeated the Omaha Jr. Lancers 3-2 to win the USA Hockey Tier II 18 & Under Conference 1A National Championship.
The much-anticipated Oklahoma City-Omaha showdown matched the two most dominant teams from pool play. The two teams combined for nine of the top 10 scorers in the tournament’s first round.
Omaha’s explosive offense was on display early as it jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Omaha’s Creighton Lay was the first to break through, taking a feed from Michael Frankowski and scoring 3:12 into the game. The score capped an offensive show by Omaha to open the game. The Jr. Lancers peppered Oklahoma City goalie Will Ryan with a half dozen shots in the opening minutes before Lay finally hit pay dirt.
The goal was Lay’s second of the tournament, and Frankowski notched his sixth assist.
Later in the period, Carter Purdy put Omaha up 2-0 after getting set up by Tyler O’Connor. The goal with 5:21 remaining in the first was Purdy’s second of the tournament, and O’Connor recorded his eighth assist.
“We didn’t look like much in the first,” Oklahoma City coach Mike McEwen said.
“I think we might have had some nerves early on,” Oklahoma City alternate captain Tyler Minx said. “They just came out more prepared, but we were saying to each other, ‘We’ve got to pick it up.’”
“Omaha is just a top-level team, and we don’t play teams of that kind of level very often,” McEwen said of his team’s slow start. “Maybe once every five or six games. It took us a little while to find our bearings.”
The comeback began late in the first period, when Johnston set up Jonathan Schlinke for his third goal of the tournament. Johnston recorded his fourth assist.
McEwen said that it was “crucial” for Oklahoma City to halve the Omaha lead before the end of the period and wrest away momentum. Despite dominating the first period, outshooting Oklahoma City 19-5, Omaha only led by one.
Ben Dillman tied the game for Oklahoma City just over four minutes into the second, burying a pass from David Schlinke. It was Dillman’s fourth goal and Schlinke’s sixth assist, tied for best on the team.
Oklahoma City kept the puck in Omaha’s end for much of the period but couldn’t manage a go-ahead score until Johnston’s heroics in the third.
Just 1:02 into the third, Johnston got his third goal of Nationals on assists from Jonathan Schlinke and Josh Gleason.
“That was huge,” Minx said. “After playing so well in the second with nothing to show for it, that picked us up.”
“It was a cheap one,” McEwen said, “but that’s OK. They had a cheap one early, so we just evened it up.”
The lead change put the pressure on Omaha’s shoulders. The team pulled starting goalie Connor Orr immediately after the score, replacing him with Austin Ward.
“We definitely had the edge on them, knowing that we had the lead,” Minx said.
Oklahoma City swept through pool play with blowout wins over Memphis (4-0), Idaho (8-1) and Mississippi (14-0). Its 26-1 scoring margin was second to Omaha’s by one goal, giving them the second seed out of their pool.
In Saturday’s quarterfinals, Oklahoma City defeated Wheeling 4-2, then got past Tri-Valley (California) in the semis with a 3-2 overtime win. Johnston was the hero of that game as well, knocking in the winning goal with 8:41 remaining in overtime.
Anthony Stancampiano led Oklahoma City with seven goals for the tournament, but with game-winners in the most important two games of their season, Angus Johnston made the most of his three scores.
“We just got better all season long,” McEwen said. “We were basically a Midget Minor team. We only had four Majors on the squad, which makes it even more impressive.”
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): 18 & Under