TROY, Mich. — After a couple of near misses the past two years kept the Southern Connecticut from the USA Hockey National Championships title, the Stars made up for it with a weeklong dominating performance, culminated by a 4-1 win on Sunday over the St. Clair Shores (Mich.) Saints, crowning Connecticut as Tier II 16-and-Under AAA national champions at the Troy Sports Center in Troy, Mich.
“In our Bantam year we lost a heartbreaker in overtime during semifinal play, and last year we also came up short losing at the Midget Minor level,” coach Eric Roos said. “This year the kids were determined to win, and give them credit because they were not to be denied.”
The Stars won all three round-robin games, outscoring their opponents 16-6. In the playoff round, Southern Connecticut eliminated the Ashburn (Va.) Xtreme 6-3 to advance to the semifinals. There they beat the Illinois Falcons 5-2 to advance to the title game.
In the championship game that was played on Sunday, starting early at noon, it was more of the same. Kade McCartin and Michael Falanga had a goal and an assist each. Matt Horton and Matt Wikman also scored. Chris Gutierrez was solid stopping all but one shot as the Stars out shot the Saints 37-32.
“Both Kade and Michael played a key role for our team all year and they came up big tonight,” Roos said. “McCartin is normally a stay-at-home defenseman, but he does have an offensive upside, and Falanga gets everyone going. He is a real sparkplug.”
St. Clair Shores fell behind 3-0 after two periods and, as hard as they tried, a goal from Justin Misiak was all the offence the Saints could muster. Alban Mamushlari drew the lone assist. Goaltender Riley Morgan played well and finished with 33 saves in a losing cause.
After the game, Roos had high praise for his players and the commitment they showed.
“I thought the boys stuck to the game plan in terms of working the puck down low and being committed in the defensive end of the rink,” Roos said. “From that defensive commitment we were able to create scoring chances that lead to our offensive production.”
The game was called pretty close as both teams combined for 10 minor penalties. Southern Connecticut was 1-for-4 on the power play and St. Clair Shores scored once in six chances with the man advantage.
Horton opened the scoring at 11:47 of the first period, assisted by Adam Shea and Falanga. McCartin scored unassisted at 12:33 and Falanga lit the lamp as well. A power-play goal from McCartin increased the Stars’ lead to 3-0 after two periods of play.
Each team scored once in the third as Misiak tallied with the man advantage at 5:18 to ruin Gutierrez shutout bid. Mamushlari drew the only assist. Wikman from Jack Fitzgerald closed out the scoring in the game at 13:20 to pretty much seal the championship.
Roos felt that St. Clair Shores gave his team all they could handle.
“They are a big and physical team, which forced us to use our skill and speed level much more,” he said. “They are a lot bigger and stronger then we were.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.