SIMSBURY, Conn. — Affton coach Chris Flaugher didn’t want to mention anything to his team prior to facing the Chicago Bruins in Sunday’s USA Hockey Tier II 18-and-Under AAA national title game at the International Skating Center of Connecticut. But Flaugher knew just how hard it can be to beat an opponent five times in a season.
“We knew we had beaten them four times,” Flaugher said. “It’s one of those things that I didn’t bring up, but it’s tough to beat a team five times. Especially in a game like this.”
But the Americans scored two goals in less than a minute midway through the third period and got another clutch performance from goaltender Billy Hindle en route to a 3-1 win over Chicago in the title game.
“We call him ‘Big Game Billy’,” Flaugher said of his goalie, who made 21 saves against the Bruins. “He’s been lights out for us all year.”
While Hindle was the star Sunday, he’s teamed with fellow goalie Jacob Bopp to give Affton a solid duo in net all year.
“I think we have the two best goalies in the league,” Hindle said. “Whenever our team isn’t playing our best, Jacob and I step it up.”
Clinging to a 1-0 lead, the Americans added a pair of goals 46 seconds apart in the third period. Ryan Croghan’s goal put Affton up by two at 6:02, while Glenn Ryan beat Chicago goalie John Floro (15 saves) at 7:16.
Chicago’s Nathan Podraza lofted a shot from the left wing that knuckled its way in between Hindle’s pads and into the back of the net to make it 3-1 at 4:46 in the third, but Affton’s quick scoring outburst earlier in the period proved to be the difference.
“We out shot them and outplayed them for stretches,” Chicago coach Michael Rohdenburg said.
The Bruins’ defense did a good job getting the shooting lanes and breaking up passes in the early going, but Affton took a 1-0 lead on Patrick Mitchell’s goal at 6:22 in the opening period. The Americans’ forward took a pass from Toppie Hogan and clanged a shot off the crossbar and into the net.
“All year long, I take the puck from the corner and try to drive to the net, so they tried to shut that off,” Hogan said of Chicago’s defense. “I tried to drive, they blocked it off, and I dished it to my linemate. They did a good job at that, but my linemate was in the right spot at the right time.”
There was plenty of back-and-forth action before and after Mitchell’s goal, but neither team had many prime scoring chances.
“They play a good, strong defensive game,” Flaugher said of the Bruins. “They don’t give up a lot of scoring opportunities. We’ve played them all year; we know we’re not going to get a lot.”
Still, Hindle had plenty of help in front of him and made several big saves, including sliding to the left to deny Chicago’s Connor Busch on a give-and-go early in the second period.
“There were some guys blocking shots,” Hindle said. “They always put their body on the line.”
While the Bruins were a familiar opponent, the Americans had never faced any of the teams they played en route to Sunday’s championship game.
“We’ve always been rivals with them, to [face] them now is just a dream come true,” Hogan said. “We’ve already beaten them four times and you’re like, ‘This could be the one where they beat us,’ but we were able to pull out the win.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.