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.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.