PITTSBURGH — The Chicago Mission have owned the third period the entire season.
Chicago, which defeated Connecticut 4-3 to win the USA Hockey Tier I 16-and-Under national championship on Sunday, came through again in the third period in the most important game of the year.
It took a late second-period goal from Ryan Wagner, his second power-play marker of the game, to give Chicago the 4-3 lead. But then the Mission had to hold onto that league during a frantic third period.
“I think we’re a third-period team,” Wagner said. “We just knew what it took to win this game.”
Unbelievably, Chicago didn’t allow a third-period goal in six games during the national championships. It didn’t happen again Sunday either as goaltender Elliot Gerth stopped all the shots he faced and the defense didn’t allow any Connecticut shots on goal in the final minute with the opposing netmeinder pulled.
“We talked about it before the tournament started, the team that can stay even keel was going to win this tournament,” Chicago Mission coach Chris Michael said.
The championship didn’t come easy for Chicago, which jumped out to a 3-0 lead, only to watch as Connecticut rallied to tie the game.
“They came back and tied it, but they never took the lead,” Michael said. “Any other team would’ve lost that game, but my guys had the resolve and the drive to win.”
Full circle for Mission coach
It all came full circle for Michael, the Chicago Mission head coach.
Michael played for the Mission in 2000 when the national championship was held at Robert Morris University’s Island Sports Complex in Pittsburgh. Now he coached Chicago to its first-ever 16U championship in the same facility.
“It’s been pretty cool to get back here as a coach,” Michael said. “It’s pretty surreal for me to get back here and walk in 13 years later knowing I have come full circle.”
In 2000, the Mission lost to Eastern Massachusetts, one game after beating three-time defending champion Shattuck-St. Mary’s.
“We felt like we won the national tournament after that game,” Michael said. “It’s been sitting there and it will never go away. It was a special team. When I realized it was [in Pittsburgh] I didn’t say anything to my team, but it’s pretty cool.”
Michael got a measure of redemption Sunday as a coach.
“I told the boys, no matter what I did as a player, this has been the greatest year of my life in the game of hockey with this group of kids,” Michael said.
It was also the first championship for Wagner, the Mission star forward who played in his third straight national championships. The Chicago Mission lost last year in the semifinals and the championship two years ago.
“It was a sigh of relief,” Wagner said. “I’m very proud of the team.”
Three players from Chicago have already committed to Notre Dame.
Robert Nardella, Tory Dello, and Christian Fischer will all play at the next level, committing to play Division I hockey.
“Winning isn’t the ultimate goal at this level,” Michael said. “It’s developing, putting yourself in front of a lot of scouts, junior scouts, college scouts and giving them something to watch … something to think about and hopefully moving on. To us, winning is a byproduct of development.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.