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Omaha 16U Team Shines With Nationals on the Line

By Greg Bates - Special to, 04/01/14, 4:45PM MDT


FOND DU LAC, Wis. -- Forgive the Omaha 16-and-Under players if they seem a little wide-eyed when the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Youth National Championships roll around.

That’s because the players have never experienced the big stage.

One year after falling to the Chicago Mission in a de facto district championship game, Omaha was determined to reverse its fortune.

The Omaha AAA team scored five first-period goals and held off a late charge from the Mission to earn an 8-5 victory Sunday and win the Central District Tier I 16U tournament at the Fond du Lac Family Ice Center.

“It’s a validation, I think, for a lot of hard work and what we’ve done in the last five years,” said Omaha coach David Wilkes about his team’s first trip to nationals. “We’re going to try to enjoy it, but we’re obviously [at nationals] because we want to win.”

Omaha finished 3-0 in the district tournament by also beating the Milwaukee Admirals 7-1 and the St. Louis Blues AAA 2-1 in a shootout.

Omaha took a commanding lead against the Mission by scoring four goals in an 8-minute, 26-second span of the opening period. Down 7-2 late in the second, the Mission tallied three goals to pull within two. However, Omaha’s Van Barr notched his second goal of the game with 4:41 remaining to seal the win.

“They’re very explosive and a very good hockey team and in the Chicago Mission group, they find ways to win,” Wilkes said. “We had a good season series with them this year and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But we got the upper hand on them today and got a few lucky breaks.”

Barr, a Western Michigan University commit, had a big weekend with five goals, scoring in all three games. University of Minnesota recruit Tarek Baker and Wade Allison also each had a five-point weekends.

Heading to nationals — which will be April 2-6 in Green Bay, Wis. — for the first time, Wilkes wants his players to enjoy the experience.

“We’re just trying to climb the mountain to see how far we can go,” Wilkes said. “I talked to our guys extensively leading up to this weekend and said, ‘Let’s just focus on playing well.’ When we play well and we work hard and do things the right way within our structure, we can compete with anybody. I’m going to try to keep the thoughts of climbing to the peak of the summit out of their heads because they can’t usually process that at that age and it probably makes them tighter than they probably should be.”

14U Mission Move On

The Chicago Mission Tier I 14U team made no mistake of its intentions of wanting to earn a spot in the national tournament.

The Mission, the second-ranked team in the country at 14U, went 3-0 over the weekend, outscoring their opponents 21-5.

“I think whether we’d won or not we would have gotten an at-large vote to move on to nationals, just because how strong they played throughout the season,” said Gino Cavallini, who doubles as the team’s coach and the association’s hockey director for both the boys and girls.

After manhandling the St. Louis Blues 6-0 Friday, the Mission had a great game against the Madison Capitols. With the game tied at 3-3, Jay Feiwell scored with 46 seconds remaining on assists from Sean Dhooghe and Bryce Murphy. Just 13 seconds later, Ben Perkins netted an unassisted empty net goal to seal a 5-3 victory.

“That’s about as good as competition as we’re going to get, relatively speaking,” Cavallini said. “We are so deep.”

In their final game of the tournament, the Mission took down the Revolution, 10-2.

Dhooghe had a great weekend with seven points (four goals, three assists), including a hat trick against the Revolution. Dhooghe has already had a number of unofficial visits to colleges. Cavallini has about 10 players who are starting to get legitimate college looks at a young age.

Chicago is a team comprised of players who won nationals at the Peewee level two years ago, so going out and winning a national championship in two weeks is an attainable goal.

Wild-Card Implemented

USA Hockey decided this season that it would increase how many teams qualify in each youth age division for national championships. In addition to the usual 12 teams in each age division, USA Hockey added four wild-card spots.

“I think they’re going to have to tweak it a little bit, but I’m glad they’re looking at something like that,” Team Illinois 18U coach Chuck Linkenheld said. “You want your best teams to be at nationals to be a true national tournament and really that’s what the colleges, that’s what the juniors teams want. It’s a great step in the right direction. It’s something that USA Hockey had to do.”

Adding the at-large bids was definitely big for the Central District. At the 16U level, the Chicago Mission, St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Young Americans all earned wild-card berths. For 18U and 14U, the St. Louis Blues each have a team advancing.

“I think it’s great they’re adding four more of the top teams in the country to the tournament,” Cavallini said. “The Central District is pretty strong. You’ve got a couple teams out of Chicago, you’ve got Omaha, St. Louis, Team Wisconsin. For another team to advance is great for the Central District, that’s for sure.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

District Champions

Tier I Youth

14U: Chicago Mission (champs)

14U: St. Louis Blues

16U: Omaha AAA (champs)

16U: Chicago Mission

16U: St. Louis Blues

16U: Chicago Young Americans

18U: Team Illinois (champs)

18U: St. Louis Blues

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