It took three regulation and six overtime periods to decide the Michigan Youth Tier I 16U state champion on Saturday.
Finally, the Michigan Nationals prevailed over Victory Honda 5-4 in a game that lasted well over four hours at the Taylor Sportsplex in Taylor, Mich.
Forward Cameron Orchard’s goal 13 seconds into the sixth overtime ended the marathon thriller for the Michigan Nationals, earning the Grand Rapids-based team a berth in the Toyota-USA Hockey National Championships March 26-30 in Amherst, N.Y.
“We were getting a little tired, but everyone in the room was so positive,” said a very excited Orchard, following the celebration. “We had a lot of Gatorade, candy bars and things to keep us going from period to period.”
Orchard credited his teammates on the winning goal.
“I lost the faceoff and Victory Honda shot the puck back in our end,” he said. “[Christopher Lipe] retrieved the puck and shot it along the boards to Alex [Klekotka], and he chipped it to me. I knew I had time to skate and shoot, and I hit the far side of the net and it went in. The next thing I saw was all my teammates around me celebrating and going crazy.”
Orchard has been with the Nationals organization for the past five years, since bantams, hoping this day would come.
“It’s been a great ride, and I have learned so much both on and off the ice with the Nationals,” said Orchard, who is from Grand Rapids. “All this time we have been trying to win a state championship, and tonight we finally got it done.”
Nationals coach Travis Richards called it the greatest moment he had been involved in with youth hockey.
“I played the game forever and have been coach for quite some time, and this is the most exciting moment,” he said. “I can’t remember anything this good. It was truly exciting and a game these kids will never forget in their lifetime.”
Victory Honda jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. Forward Cade Robinson opened the scoring at the 5:18 mark, tipping a goal past Nationals goaltender Eric Schuch. Brendan Cherwalk drew the lone assist.
Less than five minutes later, Brendan Prappas put Victory Honda up by two. Robinson added the assist.
Trevor Zenas sliced the lead in half for the Nationals when he scored with a little more than five minutes left in the opening frame.
Joey Barone and Orchard scored the only goals in the second period to put the Nationals ahead for the first time at 3-2. It was the second of three times that the lead would switch hands.
“We were a top-10 team in the country all year long, and we can compete with anyone,” Richards said. “This is a great group of kids with great leadership, and while we underachieved at times this season, keeping them motivated was not an issue.”
In the third period Victory Honda scored twice, seventy seconds apart, on goals from Robinson and Liam Walsh. The Nationals managed to tie the game in dramatic fashion with a goal from Zenas with only 44 seconds remaining, sending the game deep into the night and early morning.
“I was so proud of the kids,” Richards said. “They just worked so hard, and to see them rewarded is so great. We got some bounces and some luck in the end, and we were very fortunate to win.”
Richards also gave full marks to Victory Honda.
“After a game like this, it’s sad to think that someone has to lose,” he said. “Victory Honda gave it all they had. They played their hearts out.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.