PLANO, Texas -- Team South Dakota answered its early wakeup call by coming out fully alert Monday for the Class A title game at the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U National Championships.
South Dakota had lost the second pool-play game in the eight-team tournament to the Montana Thunderblades 3-1. In a championship game rematch, South Dakota outshot the Thunderblades 23-5 in the first period to start on the way to a 4-3 victory and its third national championship in four years.
Still, South Dakota needed two third-period goals to avenge two losses to the Thunderblades in the last two years.
Just as he was in 2014, Alex Oberg was the scoring leader in the championship game. He scored two goals and assisted on the eventual game winner. Last year, he had two goals and three assists in a 7-1 victory over the Delaware Ducks.
“[Montana] had a good team,” Oberg said. “We kind of walked through the game last year.”
Coach Chuck Vockler said, “Last year, we had the game pretty much in hand going to the third period. This year was more exciting, more fun.”
On the downside, he admitted to anxious moments after Montana’s Ryan Thompson cut the lead to 4-3 by beating South Dakota goalie Alex Robin from the top of the right faceoff circle. And after that, Hazen McKay skated across the goalmouth but couldn’t gain control of the puck.
“There with five seconds left, I was still yelling at our guys,” Vockler said. “They had the puck behind their own net, and it would have been impossible to score, but you never know.”
Team South Dakota outshot Montana 41-25 for the game, which started at 8 a.m. at the Dr. Pepper Star Center-Plano.
Despite that domination, the game was tied 2-2 after Dawson Smith scored 1:30 before the second period ended. Goalie Dysen Skinner kept the Thunderblades in the game by making 37 saves.
“They’re a good hockey team, solid,” Vockler said. “We had more than 40 shots, but their goalie held us to four goals.”
And just two goals until 11:53 of the third period.
After spending nearly all of a 7-minute stretch killing penalties in the second and third periods, South Dakota received an opening when Montana’s Conner Lindsoe went off for high sticking at 11:53.
Fifty-one seconds after that, Oberg beat Skinner on the power play. And just 1:12 after that, Oberg passed to Owen Leberknight for a 4-2 lead.
“Those were huge,” Oberg said. “We battled throughout the period. Then we were able to get a power plays and able to get numbers, and I put it in. Then on our first shift after the score, we got another. That’s always the most important shift of the game.”
On the tie-breaking goal, Oberg said, “I could have passed. But when the defenseman dropped in front of me, I didn’t want to rush the pass and mess it up.”
Then, he said, “Landon [Badger] dropped it off to me. I saw [Leberknight] breaking to the net. He had as good a chance as I did, so I passed it to him.”
Most of the Montana team played last season for the Thunderblades’ Tier II 14U national champions team, which defeated Team South Dakota’s 14U team 3-1.
“Some of the kids on our team lost last year in nationals, and some of our kids won last year,” Oberg pointed out.
Team South Dakota includes players from across the state. They played together for 20 games before Nov. 1, and came together for three practices last week before heading to nationals.
“Once they come here and hang out,” Vockler said, “They get tight.”
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A little wakeup call was all the Chesterfield Falcons needed.
The Missouri team gave up a quick goal to the Charlotte Jr. Checkers in the AA title game of the USA Hockey Tier II 16-and-Under National Championships, but rebounded in a big way with five straight goals.
The Falcons then held off a scrappy Checkers squad the rest of the way to earn a 7-3 victory in Sunday’s championship at the Cornerstone Community Center.
“I think we were a little nervous coming in,” said Chesterfield wing Nick Haydon, who scored two goals in the title game. “They scored that goal and you can’t get down. We went out there with a good, strong shift and put a couple in the net and rolled from there.”
According to Chesterfield coach Nick Lamia, his players step up their game when the pressure’s on.
“That’s just kind of been the character of our team,” Lamia said. “We like challenges, and they went up 1-0 and I think the boys just kind of mentally regrouped and we just started playing harder and better.”
After playing six games in five days, the Checkers players simply ran out of gas in the championship game.
“We’ve got a real short lineup and our big guns, they just tired out,” Charlotte coach Bob Halkidis said. “We had that foot on the gas pedal pretty much the whole tournament.”
Coming into Sunday, the Falcons won all five of their tournament games by one goal apiece. But Sunday, the Falcons went on a scoring binge and team’s offense was clicking on all cylinders for the first time in the tournament, Lamia said. The Falcons out-shot the Checkers 43-13 and registered three power-play goals and one shorthanded goal.
Charlotte lit the lamp first at the 7:50 mark of the first period as Scott Jacoppo poked in a rebound. After that, it was all Falcons. Chesterfield scored five unanswered goals in a span of 18 minutes, 40 seconds. Haydon scored twice and Ken Behlmann, Ethan Gremminger and Michael Parisot all got one goal each.
The Falcons were up 4-1 with 3:28 remaining in the second period when the Checkers drew a Falcons penalty. Halkidis decided to pull his goalie for an extra skater and attack the Falcons with a 6-on-4 advantage.
“We’ve been doing that all year and we’ve had pretty good success doing that,” Halkidis said. “We really had nothing to lose down 4-1. If you don’t score a goal and get back in the game, it’s going to be tough. We were on our heels most of the game, so I was just looking to get a goal.”
According to Halkidis, he yanked his goalie about 20 times in regulation time during the season and tallied 11 goals. The odds were in the Checkers’ favor to notch a goal Sunday in that situation. The move backfired, however, as the Falcons scored in the empty net and took a commanding four-goal lead.
Both teams notched two third-period goals, but the outcome wasn’t in question after the second intermission.
Lamia said the difference in the game was his team’s desire all season to be the best. His players knew exactly what they needed to do each practice to get better to reach their ultimate goal.
“I think we wanted it more and we came out there and we were focused,” Haydon said. “Our preparation, we’ve got a routine, and we stick to everything.”
On the Checkers’ side, Halkidis was proud his team advanced as far as it did. The players are “overachievers” in Halkidis’ mind.
“To come this far and end up second in the country, it’s an amazing accomplishment for a small-market team like us,” Halkidis said.
Haydon approached the championship game with the opposite outlook.
“We came into the game knowing it’s not worth it if you come in here and lose — no one’s going to remember you,” Haydon said. “We had to have that mentality of: ‘We’re going to win,’ and we had to have that mindset that we are winners and we’re going to be the champions.”
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