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Notebook: Connecticut 18U Team Can Thank NY Rangers Help For National Title

By Russell Jaslow - Special to, 03/30/15, 9:30AM MDT


The Rangers let the Connecticut Wolf Pack train at their Tarrytown facilities before nationals.

AMHERST, N.Y. -- Many New England club teams play split-season schedules so the athletes can also participate on their school teams.

For that reason, some of their national qualifying tournaments take place in November, before the school season begins. Then, the team breaks up, only to come back together for the Toyota-USA Hockey National Championships.

If they are one of the lucky ones to have qualified.

For the Youth Tier I 18U Connecticut Wolf Pack, they had an additional disadvantage this year — they no longer had ice when they regrouped.

“Normally, in the past we go to these nationals, we don’t get a practice,” Connecticut coach Douglas Messier said.

Connecticut ended up winning this year’s national championship in a thrilling 5-4 overtime victory over the North Jersey Avalanche. The Wolf Pack can credit a nearby NHL team for helping them get there.

“For this year, because of the graciousness of the New York Rangers, we had a four-day minicamp at the Rangers’ training center in Tarrytown,” Messier said. “That really helped a lot.”

“We knew we were a skilled team, and we knew we had a lot of potential to win it,” forward Vimal Sukumaran, who scored the championship-winning goal in overtime, said. “We just had to gel together really quickly. So we had a couple of practices going into it, and we felt good.”

They were still rusty for their first game, losing to Dallas Stars Elite, 2-1.

“Our first game, we were a little sluggish,” Messier said. “We didn’t capitalize. But that game got us back into the mood and they got stronger as they went along. They saw the end of the tunnel and they played hard.”

Sukumaran added, “The first game wasn’t really a good testament to how we were. I think that first game kind of pulled us through for the next couple of games.”

Connecticut won its next two round-robin games, 6-2 against Little Caesars and 7-0 over Springfield Rifles.

This put the Wolf Pack into the quarterfinals, where they defeated the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets, 4-2. That win setup a semifinal matchup against mighty Shattuck-St. Mary’s of Minnesota.

“Shattuck was a great game,” defenseman James Gobetz said. “We knew they were number one coming into the tournament. We knew we had to have our ‘A’ game. We were very prepared for the game. Everyone was focused.”

Connecticut won 4-1 after letting up the first goal. It finished the deal with the win over North Jersey.

Despite the opening-game loss, the minicamp opportunity offered by the Rangers helped Connecticut prepare for a quicker turnaround.

Long Shootout
If a game ends after regulation and overtime a scoreless tie, it should be no surprise that the ensuing shootout takes a long time to settle affairs.

That’s what happened in the second game of pool play between Ohio and the St. Louis AAA Blues.

Ohio’s Grant Valentine stopped all 26 shots he faced. Tommy Nappier did the same with 20 shots thrown his way.

During the five-shot shootout, each team scored once. On the first sudden death shot, Ohio’s Mitchell Perrault scored, but it was ruled his forward motion had stopped. Then, Valentine made a Matrix-like save to keep the shootout going.

The seventh and eighth shots were unsuccessful. Nappier stopped the ninth shot. Joseph Matthews then came in slowly and put a shot past Valentine to win it for St. Louis.

Despite the loss, Ohio moved on to the knockout round thanks to winning their other two games. They lost the quarterfinal game to Connecticut.

St. Louis lost the tiebreaker to the Cape Cod Whalers for the second spot and did not advance.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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