TROY, Mich. -- It’s tough to win one national title, let alone two, but the Mid State Mustangs (Pa.) accomplished the back-to-back victories when they beat the Littleton Hawks (Colo.) 4-1 on championship Monday at the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 18U AAA National Championships at the Troy Sports Center in Michigan.
After returning half of last year’s roster, Mustangs coach Dave Weaver felt experience made a huge difference in winning back-to-back national titles.
“Having the national championship experience was enormous,” Weaver said during a wild celebration following the win. “If you have never been to the nationals, there is so much added pressure, and those guys from last year’s title team were so calm and just went about their business. When that happens, it rubs off to the rest of the team.”
As the tournament progressed, Weaver liked the mindset of his team and felt positive of his team’s chances of repeating.
“All week I could see and sense something special,” Weaver said. “The team was loose and focused. I never thought they would take any of the games lightly.”
He was right. The Mustangs went a perfect 3-0 during the round robin and beat the Naperville Sabres 5-2 in the quarterfinals. They advanced to championship after beating the St. Lawrence Thunder 4-2 in the semifinals.
In the national championship game, the Mustangs got goals from four different players. Jordan Beistel and Nicolo Gricco had a goal and an assist to lead the attack. Luke Lewandowski and Joshua Oliver also scored for the Mustangs.
Beistel opened up the scoring with an even-strength goal at the 7:09 mark of the first period and was the only goal in the opening frame. Gricco and Conor Landrigan drew the assists. The Mustangs out-shot the Hawks 11-7.
Unlike the first period, when both teams were feeling each other out and the checking was much tighter, the second period was a wide-open affair as they combined for three goals. Littleton tied the game at 5:33, with the Hawks’ first and only goal. Daniel Fessenden scored from the high slot and Jack Kilkenny and Jake Wener were awarded the assists.
At the 13:50 mark, Lewandowski scored what proved to be the winning goal. Anthony Oppenheimer had the only helper. With the Mustangs on the power play, Gricco added an insurance goal with Beistel and Brandon Ritchey getting the assists.
After outshooting the Hawks 17-8 in the middle frame, the game was still a hotly contested tilt and a lot different from when the two teams met in the round robin, with the Mustangs winning in decisive fashion 6-0.
Weaver knew this game would be different.
“After the round-robin tilt, I had a feeling that this was going to be a different team from the one we saw and beat earlier in the week,” he said. “Littleton came out and played an unbelievable game and we had to fight for everything we got.”
Oliver scored the lone goal in the final period shorthanded to wrap up the scoring.
The Mustangs out-shot the Hawks 38-26 overall.
Littleton’s Cameron Bukes was the busier of the goaltenders, stopping 34 of 38 shots. Garet Ciaramella faced 26 shots and stopped all but one, which pleased Weaver.
“Garet played fantastic all week, backstopping us to six wins in a row,” said a smiling Weaver. “He just got better and better as the week and the games went by. That’s the mark of a great goaltender.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.