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Shorthanded Pittsburgh Aviators Navigate Clear Path to Nationals

By Greg Bates - Special to USAHockey.com, 03/18/14, 4:45PM MDT

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Having only 10 skaters play in the Mid-American district Tier I 19-and-Under tournament over the weekend didn’t seem to affect the Pittsburgh Aviators.

The team outscored its opponents 23-3 in four games and won the district to punch its ticket to the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Girls National Championships April 2-6 in Marlborough, Mass.

“We played basically with that roster the whole year. I think we won like three tournaments with nine or 10 kids at a tournament,” Aviators coach Greg Carter said. “We were kind of used to playing that many games with that number of kids.”

The Aviators had a depleted roster because new rules limit how many out-of-district skaters a team can suit up for postseason games. Carter had to run with only two forward lines instead of the customary three he uses when the team has 14 skaters.

The Aviators played two games on Friday and two games Sunday but had four hours between games for the players to get their legs back. Carter’s athletes are well conditioned and didn’t suffer from fatigue the entire weekend.

“We actually got stronger as the tournament went on,” Carter said. “The first game was probably our worst.”

The Aviators beat Culver Academy 7-3 in the opener and then won their final three games by a combined score of 16-0 (7-0 over Gilmore Academy, 3-0 over Pittsburgh Penguins Elite and 6-0 over Ohio Flames).

Scores notwithstanding, the Aviators’ tightest game might have been in the win against Ohio. Despite the 6-0 score, the Flames held with the Aviators, keeping it one-goal game until early in the second period.

“They had a 2-on-1 [break] and the goalie came across, glove save, just awesome,” Carter said. “That kept it 1-0, and 30 seconds later we go down and score and took the wind right out of their sails.”

The Aviators used a good mix of offense and defense to wreak havoc on their opponents.

“We blocked a lot of shots and our defense controlled the puck and cleared the rebounds,” Carter said. “We spent a lot of time in the offensive zone, so we controlled the corners and a lot of cycling and we spread their defense out. There were a couple times were we had three, four minutes in the offensive zone and we would change one player at a time because we wouldn’t get whistles.”

The Aviators got contributions from every player during the tournament, which really pleased Carter.

“Everybody scored, everybody made plays offensively, everybody made plays defensively,” Carter said. “It was just a solid team effort. No one person shined, the whole team shined.”

The Aviators have a stacked lineup with half of their 12 players who competed in the district tournament heading to play college hockey in the future. The team’s first line consists of Boston College commit Makenna Newkirk and Northeastern recruits Shelby Herrington and Kasidy Anderson. The second line features two more Division I players and a Division III athlete.

“Our team is deep,” Carter said. “We’re low on numbers but high on ability.”

The team is also experienced. In 2010, the majority of the girls on the Aviators helped Team Pittsburgh win the 14U national title. The same group of girls qualified for nationals the following three seasons as well.

After tasting success on the biggest stage five years ago, the Aviators players are looking to notch a second national title.

“First it was, don’t get ahead of ourselves, we have to go down and play well and win our district,” Carter said. “Now we change our focus to nationals and it’s one game at a time. If we play like we did this weekend and continue that, we should have a pretty good chance.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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