GREEN BAY, Wis. – Just three weeks ago, there was a lot of uncertainly for the Syracuse Nationals 14-and-Under youth hockey team. After falling to the eventual New York champion Buffalo Regals in a state semifinal, the Nationals didn’t know if their season was over.
“It was kind of hard for us because we stopped practices for probably like two weeks, and we got an email one night and we had to make a decision by the next morning,” Nationals forward Reggie Buell said.
The email the players received was regarding the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Youth National Championships. The Nationals had received an at-large bid to play in the prestigious, year-end tournament, and the players had to decide if they wanted to travel to Green Bay, Wis., to compete.
“It’s a lot of money that we have to put together, and so we all came together as a team and decided to go,” Buell said.
It was a second life for the Syracuse Nationals. And one shot is all some teams need to turn a national title dream into reality.
Winning the state title would have been a great accomplishment for Syracuse and would have carried some momentum into nationals.
“It’d be nice to be on a high, but it really doesn’t matter,” Nationals coach Terry Kirwan said. “You’re here, and that’s why they play the game, they say.”
The Nationals didn’t miss a beat at gaining a little momentum early in the national tournament. In the opening game Wednesday against the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes, Syracuse trailed 3-2 late in the third period when Buell tallied the neutralizer with 34 seconds remaining.
In the shootout, the Nationals trailed two goals to one heading into the fifth and final shooter. Then Kevin Wall scored to send it to sudden death. After Syracuse goalie Thomas Draper stopped the Hurricanes’ shooter, Nationals forward Joel Farabee scored his second goal of the shootout to clinch a 4-3 victory.
“That was definitely a fun way to win the first one,” Nationals’ Sutter Donegan said. “The last-minute goal and the shootout win, that’s always fun.”
The Nationals, ranked No. 13 in the country at 14U, continued their high by downing the No. 5 L.A. Jr. Kings 3-1 on Thursday to up their national tournament record to 2-0.
Syracuse — which is comprised of about 75 percent of players with nationals experience after competing in 2012 at the 12U level — has been using its main strength to beat teams.
“We’re a lot smaller than a lot of the teams here, so we’ve got to use our speed a lot out there,” said Donegan, who played on the 12U team that went to nationals. “We’ve got to hit because that’s what the other teams are doing. It’s not always going to work, but you’ve got to try.”
It has been the Nationals’ philosophy all season to utilize their speed. Also, the team relies on puck possession.
“Our goal is always to give our best effort and try to achieve our potential,” Kirwan said. “If we can do that, then we can play with anybody. If we don’t, we’re going to have trouble and we’re going to struggle.”
The Nationals haven’t struggled yet, and they’ve been holding on to high aspirations all season, even though they barely snuck into nationals.
“We always thought we were a contender,” Donegan said. “Being in the top 15 most of the season, I thought we could make it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.