WEST CHESTER, Pa. -- Five players and the head coach from the North Jersey Avalanche 18U Tier I team already have national medals.
Coach Mark Lotito said there have been many conversations this season about getting back to the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier I National Championships, held this year in San Jose, California, from March 31-April 4.
“We’ve talked about getting back and winning the gold instead of the silver,” Lotito said.
The Avalanche put together a series of rallies last year, including in the national championship game where it forced overtime before losing to the Connecticut Wolf Pack, 5-4.
North Jersey, based out of the Ice House in Hackensack, is taking its top two teams to nationals this year after winning 18U and 16U Tier I Atlantic District titles March 12-13 at the Ice Line Quad Rinks.
The teams prepared for the district title runs and national tournament appearances by winning titles this season while playing a national schedule in the Tier 1 Elite League.
The 16U team won its 75th game overall on the season in the district clincher while the 18U team is over 60 wins for the season.
Goalie Joshua Sarlo leads the list of players with national experience.
Sarlo was the only goalie with four wins at last year’s 18U nationals. He made the return visit official with a 30-save shutout during a 4-0, second-game win over the host Philadelphia Junior Flyers to complete a sweep of the best-of-three series.
The Avalanche won the series opener, 3-2, with Sarlo making 35 saves to offset a 37-32 Philadelphia shot advantage.
“We definitely have a goalie, and defensively we play extremely well,” Lotito said. “And, we have talent. We make plays.”
The list of scoring options is lengthy.
While going 23-7-2 to finish second in the Tier 1 Elite League East Division regular season before taking the playoff title, the Avalanche was led by Matt Kidney with 17 goals and 29 points.
Todd Goehring, who scored the team’s first goal of the Atlantic District final series, matched Kidney’s goal total. He was tied for second in points with Brendan Ondick and Patrick Cozzi at 26. Bobby Hampton and Nicholas Fea added 25 points each. Michael Ufberg led the team with 20 assists and led the defensemen with 24 points.
“We do have some very pretty goals,” Lotito said. “We have seven kids committed to [NCAA] Division I schools and Bobby Hampton is on the NHL Central Scouting list.
“We have some high-end players and we play 200 feet.”
They also have experience.
Wade Novak was the team’s second-leading scorer at 2015 nationals in Amherst, New York with seven points in six games. Paul Cimilluca had two goals and an assist while Tyler Antonucci and Devon Shell also had points during nationals.
The Avalanche fought past the Junior Flyers in the most-attended game of the district championship weekend, finally breaking a scoreless tie on a Timothy Clifton goal in the waning moments of the second period.
Sarlo made 13 third period saves to protect the lead, which grew on goals by Hampton, Cimilluca and Cozzi in a span of 3:42. Hampton was the only player in the game with two points.
The Avalanche rolled over Team Comcast, 4-0 and 9-2, on the way to the 16U title.
Vinny Smith coaches the team, which was strong all season. The Avalanche went 26-5-1 in the Tier 1 Elite League regular season to win the East and post the third-best record of 26 teams. It then won in the playoffs.
Jordan Seyfert was the league’s fourth-leading scorer with 18 goals and 24 assists. Steven Agriogianis was sixth in goals (20) and 10th in points (35).
Justin Robbins led the league with 21 wins while ranking fourth in goals against average (1.53) and save percentage (.938).
Seyfert had a hat trick, just past the midway point in the game, and Robbins made 23 saves to win the district finals opener.
Adam Samuelson had two goals to lead a balanced attack in the clinching romp.
“A couple of boys have been in the program since learn-to-skate and they have never won,” said Smith, who was an assistant coach on last year’s national runner-ups. “The loyalty of those boys I think is something that drove this team and drove the coaches to bring in some high-end kids to experience something as special as going to nationals.”
Justin Robbins and his brother, Adam, have been with the program since they were five years old.
The Avalanche is also sending its 14U Tier II team to nationals in Charlotte, N.C.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.