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Nationals Rivals Join Forces On Team USA

By Dan Scifo - Special to USAHockey.com, 03/26/14, 3:00PM MDT

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Best of friends one day, bitter rivals the next.

That will be the case for several members of the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team, who could potentially go from playing for a gold medal during this year’s International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s U18 World Championship in Budapest Hungary, to competing against one another with their respective travel programs three days later during the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Girls National Championships in Marlborough, Mass.

“I think it’s kind of cool to see how we all have the same goal even though we’re all kind of competing against each other normally,” U.S. goaltender Kaitlin Burt said. “It’s also cool to see the diversity on Team USA. It’s cool to play with them, and when we play against them it’s always fun.”

The bulk of the 22-member U.S. U18 squad is comprised of six players from Minnesota, five from Massachusetts and three from Michigan. They all represent prestigious, elite programs such as Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota, Detroit Honeybaked, Chicago Mission and Assabet Valley of Massachusetts, among others.

“I think when we all get together to play with USA Hockey, we know we’re wearing that jersey, and at the end of the day you’re all on the same team,” said defenseman Jincy Dunne, who spent time with the U.S. Olympic Women’s Team this season.

“It’s awesome because we get to talk about each other’s teams and experiences and what it’s like for each of us, but at the end of the day, you put aside any differences you may have and focus on one goal, and this group of girls is able to do that.”

Burt, a high school junior, starred in goal at Buckingham Browne & Nichols, a prep school in Cambridge, Mass., but she also plays with the East Coast Wizards, the host program for this year’s Tier I Girls National Championships.

Burt regularly squares off against current Team USA teammates Rebecca Gilmore, Lexie Laing, Kenzie Kent and Caitrin Lonergan, all standouts at Assabet Valley.

“It’s a really small hockey world in Massachusetts because we play each other all the time,” Burt said.

Burt has also battled against Dunne. While backstopping the East Coast Wizards to the U12 national championship several seasons ago, Burt defeated Dunne’s St. Louis Lady Blues, 3-1.

“She shut me down a couple times,” Dunne said of Burt. “Her team beat us, and she played a huge part in that.”

Dunne did net her team’s lone goal, but it wasn’t enough.

“She scored on me, but it’s OK because we ended up winning,” Burt said. “She can score on me as much as she wants as long as we win. She was a powerhouse, she was a force to be reckoned with and she still is.”

U.S. goaltender Erin O’Neil plays with defenseman Grace Bizal and forward Maliya Rodgers at Hopkins High School in suburban Minneapolis. Teammates Sydney Baldwin, a defenseman, and forward Taylor Williamson play for two of Hopkins’ biggest high school rivals, Minnetonka and Edina, respectively. Minnesota native Patricia Marshall also plays at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a prep school in Faribault, Minn. that doesn’t compete in the Minnesota high school league.

“[Baldwin and Williamson] play for two of our biggest rivals, but they’re really some of my best friends,” O’Neil said. “They’re awesome people and we really work well together, so you would never be able to tell that we played against each other, we’re heated rivals and we compete really hard during the season.”

Just because the group is close doesn’t mean they haven’t had any run-ins on the ice.

“I stopped [Baldwin] a couple times, made a couple big saves, and I definitely like to remind them of it,” O’Neil said. “But at the same time Taylor dangled me really bad on a breakaway to win for her team one time.

“It’s a great group of girls, and in general everybody has a ton of respect for each other and a lot of respect for our country. It’s an honor being on this team, and you’re not going to hold any grudges against anybody because of that.”

And there is no doubt, when the members of the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team disperse — no matter what happens in Budapest — they will still be close friends. But when they meet again, on different teams, they will do everything they can to ensure their squad comes away with the victory.

“It’s a game of respect,” U.S. coach Jeff Kampersal said. “The players have respect for one another, but they have a lot of pride, so whatever jersey it is, they’re really proud to wear that jersey.

“When they leave the rink, they can be great friends, and that’s one of the best things about the sport, but when the puck drops, it’s all business.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Even though the last five minutes or so were played at even strength, it certainly felt like Michigan’s Summit Plastics was in penalty-kill mode, trying to fend off advance after advance while nursing a one-goal lead over the Texas Tornado.

Just like they did when they were actually shorthanded during the game, Michigan’s champions came through.

Summit Plastics killed off all six penalties they faced and stood tall under third-period pressure, and captain Jake Howie delivered a goal and an assist in a game-changing second period to help his team capture the USA Hockey Tier II 16-Under 3A National Championship with a 2-1 victory over the Tornado Sunday afternoon at Skate Quest Ice Rink in Reston, Va.

Chance Summers got the Tornado on the board with 4:51 remaining. That goal sliced the Texans’ deficit in half and sett the stage for a tense and frenzied end to a physical, evenly played game.

“It looked like [a penalty kill],” Summit Plastics coach Steve Glover said. “We respected them, and they kept coming at us and we were sitting back on the defensive, because we were killing penalties most of the game, and that just gave them momentum.”

Special-teams play determined the outcome of the 3A title, as the Tornado was flustered on all of its power-play opportunities. Texas didn’t help its own cause by twice committing penalties of its own after receiving the man advantage just seconds earlier.

“That was very frustrating for us,” Tornado coach Tom Murphy said. “We had no success in the power play today. If you’re going to be a championship team, you have to have success on the power play.”

Summit Plastics did just that to open the scoring in the pivotal second period.

Just 18 seconds after going up a man, Summit Plastics capitalized. Howie slid a cross-ice pass from the left to the far post, where Sly Sutter stood and wristed home the goal with 14:31 left in the period.

“The puck came down to me, they didn’t cover [Sutter] back door and you have to slide it across to him,” Howie said. “He buried it.”

Howie buried one of his own at even strength about six minutes later, intercepting an attempted clearance from a Tornado defender, carrying into the offensive zone and going five hole on goalie A.J. Smith (23 saves) to double Summit Plastics’ lead.

“I could tell the defender was coming back to his forehand,” Howie said. “He was on his backhand, and you just knew he was going to come back to his strong side and try and get it out, but he didn’t even turn and look. He just fired up the middle, and I was right there to pick it off.”

In a game laced with big hits and physical play, the diminutive Howie stood the tallest. His clutch playmaking ability is a big reason why the 3A championship plaque is heading north to Fraser, Mich.

“Jake just works his butt off,” Glover said. “Not many people believe in him because of his size, but it doesn’t stop him. He doesn’t stop moving and doesn’t stop working. Everybody looks up to him, and he wears that captain patch with pride because of his work ethic. He’s got a knack for the net, and he reads plays very well.”

Howie (four goals, nine assists) and teammate Brandon Hawkins (six goals, seven assists) led the 3A pool with 13 points apiece, besting Texas’ Conner Bebb (six goals, five assists) by two.

Summit Plastics goalie Cameron Johnson was another hero for the newly crowned national champions. He allowed just one goal on 85 shots in 204 minutes over the course of five games. Summers, who finished into an empty net after a fortuitous bounce off the boards gave him a clean look at the net, was the only player to beat Johnson all tournament.

Texas’ Mason Weis almost did on two occasions Sunday, but Johnson came up with big saves on Weis’ breakaways in the first and third periods.

Johnson -- along with the rest of his teammates -- was also flawless while Summit Plastics was shorthanded.

“We practiced quite a bit all year doing penalties,” Glover said. “We’re a very aggressive hockey team, and we do take our share. 5-on-5 it was just an even game. We scored on our power play and we killed off their penalties. That was the game as far as I’m concerned.”

Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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