BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Four USA Hockey National Championships finales took place at the Amherst Pepsi Center on Sunday. They saved the best championship game for the end of the day.
A late third-period goal broke a tie in an end-to-end, action-filled game as the Mid-Fairfield Blues added an empty-netter to defeat the LA Hockey Club, 5-3, to win USA Hockey's Tier I 14 & Under National Championship.
"It was a hell of a game by both teams," Mid-Fairfield coach Chris Kiene said. "They were the team to beat. We were behind a little bit with some injuries. They are strong and move the puck around very well. We stayed stride-for-stride with them. We had our system all year, trying to get five goals usually wins us hockey games."
It wasn't easy getting those five goals. Neither team held more than a one-goal lead until the empty netter. The lead traded hands three times.
The key goal came with 5:55 left in the contest. An LA defenseman tried to pass the puck to the top of the circle on the left side, but Quinn Smith beat the receiving player to it. Peter Michialidis then one-timed a pass home.
Afterward, LA threw everything at the Mid-Fairfield net. With the exception of a few clears, the puck was in the Blues' zone for virtually the rest of the game. Willie Love, who had already made some spectacular saves, especially with his glove, had to elevate his game to save his team. He was up to the task.
"Willie really came together in this tournament," Kiene said. "I gave him the net and I asked if he wanted to win a National Championship. He was willing to do it. He played great to get us in this position. He made the saves today when we needed it."
Love's teammates finally helped him out when they scored an empty-net goal, thanks to a fortuitous bounce and roll. LA pulled its goalie with a minute to go. With almost half a minute left, Brandon Russo cleared the puck from deep in his own zone off the glass. The puck took the right bounces, flipped up on its edge, and rolled all the way into the unguarded net to clinch the championship for the Connecticut squad.
"All season we've been a third-period hockey team," Kiene said. "We knew our best hockey was going to come in the third period. So we knew to keep it close in the first two periods and that our best was going to happen. We are a very well-conditioned team and we work very hard to prep, and our kids are committed. It showed in the third period. They stayed focused on what they were doing, and they kept on accelerating."
The Blues scored the first goal of the game at 5:56 of the opening period while the teams were skating four per side. With a faceoff to the right of the LA goalie, Russo won it cleanly back to Smith, who shot it straight into the net.
While both teams were still skating a man down, LA answered when Andrew White's shot from the right point beat Love. LA took the lead late in the period on a two-man advantage power play. LA had a shooting gallery going, and finally Love was unable to stop the barrage. Matthew Nieto found the open Shane McColgan, who blasted it past the sprawled goalie.
Two quick goals in the first three minutes of the second period gave Mid-Fairfield the lead back, the first on the power play, the second while shorthanded. Once again a clean faceoff win, this time by Michialidis, produced the goal. Tyler Bouchard shot a bullet past Kyle Laslo.
Smith scored his second of the night, thanks to never giving up on the play. Kevin Tiefenwerth had a shorthanded breakaway, but was stopped by Laslo. However, Laslo dropped his stick in the process, and Tiefenwerth hustled after the rebound and found Smith on the opposite side. Smith easily put it through the five-hole of a stickless Laslo.
During that same penalty, LA got it back 12 seconds later when Nieto put the rebound in from a Shane Sooth shot.
That tied the game and set the scene for the nail-biting third period.
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): Youth Tier-I