AMHERST, N.Y. -- The title game in the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 18U National Championships was a wild affair. The Connecticut Wolf Pack finally pulled the game out on an overtime goal with 20.4 seconds left in the extra period.
Connecticut coach, Douglas Messier, described the action.
“We’re up 3-1,” he said. “We gave them a couple of chances, and they scored and made it a 3-3 game. And then you get the lead back. They tied it up again at 4-4.”
The team he was referring to is the North Jersey Avalanche, whose modus operandi all tournament were comebacks. North Jersey trailed 2-0, 3-1, and 4-3, but still managed to force overtime.
“That team played well all year,” Messier said of North Jersey. “We knew they’ll come out pushing, and they did.”
The Wolf Pack took the 2-0 lead in the first period. Vimal Sukumaran deflected a shot from the left point. Matteo Esposito had an easy tap-in from the backdoor.
North Jersey finally got on the board midway through the second period with the game’s only power play tally. Andrew Logerfo got the puck on the back post to easily slide it in to the open side.
Ben Sharf gave Connecticut a two-goal lead again with another backdoor tip-in. The second period ended, 3-1.
Then, the Avalanche came storming back, scoring twice in a 33 second span early in the third. Paul Cimilluca’s shot from up top found its way through a crowd. Joseph Mortilaro from the left side blasted a shot near side.
After the goal, Connecticut took a timeout. It worked, as 58 seconds later, the Wolf Pack had the lead again. Sukumaran picked up a rebound and stretched out to make a backhand pass to Kale Kane, who slammed it into the wide-open side.
However, as was evident throughout the contest, no lead was safe. North Jersey’s Marc Johnstone tapped one in from the front of the net to tie it.
Messier explained how his players kept their cool.
“We tried to get our guys to just play within themselves, not to be afraid to lose it,” he said. “Play the game the way it should be played, but don’t be afraid of losing because you can’t play afraid.”
Both teams had excellent chances to win in overtime. Sukumaran, who scored the first goal of the game, scored the last to end the day.
“I just went to the front of the net,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of success in front of the net. Greg Krisberg got the puck to the front for me. I pulled the puck to my backhander, and it was a wide open net from there.”
“They’re a prep school team,” Messier said of the Wolf Pack. “We don’t play all year together, just the fall, and we get together for this tournament. It was a great effort by the kids.”
No matter how many times North Jersey erased deficits this tournament, you can never erase a deficit in overtime. Thus, Connecticut finally was able to hold onto a lead.
“We didn’t get a lot of time to play together,” defenseman James Gobetz said. “It was hard work that got us to this championship. We blew a lead today, but we came back.”
Messier added, “Our kids have been pretty resilient. They played their best all year at this tournament.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.