SALT LAKE CITY -- After his post-game interview, Portland Hawks forward Sammy Willman grinned as he went back to his locker room.
“I’m famous!” he said.
Yeah, that’s what happens when you score the game-winning goal in sudden death overtime of the national championships.
Willman tallied the clincher with 1:27 remaining in the extra session to push Portland (Ore.) to a 3-2 victory against the Junior Steelheads (Idaho) in the Class A title game of the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 14U National Championships on Monday.
“This is definitely one of the best moments of my life,” Willman said. “Hockey, it’s great. This is an unreal feeling.”
The two teams had played through most of the first overtime period when Willman took matters into his own hands.
“They had a 2-1 lead, and then after [tying the game] it was us in their zone the whole time,” said Willman, who led Class A with 11 goals and 14 points in five games. “We were just pounding it. I got some space, drove it wide, went hard at the goal and poked it in.”
That set off a wild celebration on the Hawks end of the ice.
“We were consistently putting pressure on them from the drop of the puck in overtime,” Portland coach Scott Brown said. “That’s what we wanted. They were crowding us out. If we weren’t moving the puck in the offensive zone, they were all over us. They were really good defensively, and their goaltender was awesome. But I thought we had a little bit better speed and we used that to our advantage.”
Good work by both goalies kept the game scoreless in the first period. The Junior Steelheads broke into the scoring column first with 11:04 to play in the second. A pair of penalties put Portland down two players, and John Driscoll scored on a deflection for a 1-0 Steelheads lead. Moments later, Portland knotted things up with a goal by Jon Koltvedt, who took a sweet pass from Kai Conti in front of the net.
The Steelheads effectively killed a Portland power play late in the second, and a great save by Portland goalie Cameron Birchall on a one-on-one opportunity kept the score tied at 1-all at the intermission.
The Steelheads jumped on top 2-1 in the third when Driscoll scored his second goal of the game by stealing a pass at center ice, then racing in and backhanding a shot into the net at the 11:40 mark.
Portland managed to tie the game at 2-all with 8:52 remaining with Walker Reiersgaard following up a Willman shot with a goal.
Portland put a lot of pressure on the Steelheads in the final eight minutes of regulation but couldn’t light the lamp. The pressure, though, continued in the overtime period, and that ultimately led to Willman’s game-winning goal.
“I really thought we had momentum because we had that second goal to tie it up,” Brown said. “We were really in their offensive zone a lot. And that last goal, Sammy just grabbed the puck. He’s crafty with it and he used his speed. He got around the defense and beat the goalie. It was a great individual effort by him, along with a good team effort in the overtime.”
The Portland squad doesn’t play in a league, but playing in tournaments helped the Hawks finish things in a tight matchup.
“We’re used to it because we’ve had a lot of close games,” Willman said. “We had a big tournament in Phoenix, and we lost it in overtime. We didn’t want that feeling again, so we skated as hard as we could. Losing just wasn’t an option. We just played with passion and that was the hardest we’ve ever played.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.