POWELL, Ohio -- Momentum seemed turning against the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets in the Mid-American Tier I 16-and-Under district championship game on Sunday at OhioHealth Chiller North. Holding a 3-1 lead over Culver (Ind.) Academy in the second period, the Jackets had a goal waved off and forward Marshal King was sent to the penalty box in a span of 27 seconds.
Forward Trevor St. Jean kept the Jackets’ momentum going in the right direction, however, scoring a man-down goal with 28.4 seconds left in the second period as Ohio headed off to a 6-2 win.
“We got the energy back right there,” said St. Jean, one of six players to score for the Jackets in the championship. “It gave us the extra push. I poked one through, and it happened to go in.”
“It could’ve been a big momentum swing, but we battled through it,” Jackets coach Perry Ganchar said. “Trevor made a great play and we got a short-handed goal.”
With the victory, Ohio advances to the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Youth National Championships, which will be held April 2-6 in Green Bay, Wis. The Blue Jackets will be making their first trip to the 16U national tournament in four years.
“I wouldn’t say this puts us back on the map, but it definitely reestablishes us,” Ganchar said.
To get to the district final, the Jackets relied on a stingy defense as they outscored four opponents by a combined total of 16-3. In the first three rounds, Ohio defeated the Pittsburgh Selects 4-0, the Esmark (Pa.) Stars 5-1 and the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 1-0.
Culver had a similar run, outscoring its first three opponents 13-2 — defeating the Cleveland Barons 3-1, the Pittsburgh Predators 6-1 and the Indiana Junior Ice 4-0.
Ganchar said his team’s title run started with goaltender Grant Valentine’s effort in the net. Valentine turned back 25 shots in the championship game while Culver goaltender Cam Burggrabe had 20 saves.
“Any time you get a championship effort, it starts with goaltending,” Ganchar said. “Grant’s been that guy for us. He’s a real established goaltender. He gives us quality games every start.”
“We’ve had a rollercoaster year so far. We’re peaking at the right time,” said Valentine said. “I just felt real confident in the net today. The defense made things easy for me.”
The Blue Jackets had struggled against Culver this season, going 0-3-1 against the Indiana team before Sunday’s championship game.
Culver jumped to a 1-0 lead on Sunday before Kole Sherwood and Zachary Tyson answered with goals to give the Jackets a 2-1 lead by the end of the first period.
“I think it’s a match-up thing,” Valentine said. “[The first four meetings] they played really hard and we were real tentative. That motivated us for today.”
While the Blue Jackets haven’t been to the 16U national tournament in four years, it’s not completely unfamiliar territory for some of the players. St. Jean was on the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets 14U team that qualified for the national tournament two years ago.
He is hopeful that this year’s team can build upon the experience, when the Blue Jackets were not able to win a game at the national championships.
“Every team there is really good, but I feel like we have a stronger team this year,” St. Jean said. “This year I feel we have good chemistry and our lines are going. I honestly think we have a chance to take home a trophy. I’m feeling good about it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.