INDIAN TRAL, N.C. — Northern Kentucky playmaker Hunter Hogue discovered open ice and deftly stickhandled the puck past a defenseman.
With a clear lane to the net, Hogue’s effort was denied, but the rebound slid to an unchecked Christopher Dunn.
The second-period goal Sunday gave the Norse a one-goal advantage over the Atlanta Phoenix during the 2013 USA Hockey National Championships for Tier II 14-and-Under A teams at the Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail, N.C.
The Phoenix were falling.
“I could feel it,” forward Jacob Nash said. “We were down, sluggish on the bench.”
But like their tendency this season, the Phoenix did not stay flat for long.
Nash and defenseman Brandon Reidy scored 10 seconds apart, and two-third period goals by forward Austin Magera lifted the Phoenix to an eventual 6-3 victory in the 1A final. The national title is the program’s first and “probably is the first from the state [of Georgia],” coach Robert Cernich said, “at any age.”
“This feels pretty crazy,” said Magera, who scored three goals. “A lot of hard work went into it.”
And determination, Cernich said.
Several times during the course of the campaign, the Phoenix found ways to rebound after poor starts or flat stretches.
“They have fallen behind in games, and then there’s that one goal that sparks them,” Cernich said. “We’ve been a resilient team all year long.”
Reidy appeared to score “that one” goal Sunday. Off an assist from Magera, Reidy tied the game at 3-all at 3:08 of the second period. Off the ensuing center-ice face-off, Nash quickly gained control and secured the unassisted game-winner at 3:18.
Players on the Phoenix bench could immediately sense a shift in the final’s momentum.
“Everyone was fired up,” said Nash, who also opened the scoring 1:03 into the first period. “Then we took control.”
Magera scored twice in the third.
After surrendering first-period goals to Northern Kentucky’s Ian Rentfrow, Hunter Hogue and Dunne, Atlanta goalie Michael Sobczyk seemed to benefit from a tighter defense. Sobczyk faced 11 first-period shots on goal, but just four each in the second and third.
Nearly a half-hour after the on-ice victory celebration, Nash was asked about the program’s first national championship.
He shook his head and smiled: “I don’t think its reality yet.”
For the injury-plagued Norse, the finals appearance was “a surprise.”
“I think we surprised ourselves,” coach Mark Hogue said. “This was a great experience.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.