AMHERST, N.Y. -- An early third period goal gave the Southern Connecticut Stars the Class 3A title over the St. Clair Shores Saints of Michigan.
An empty-netter sealed the 3-1 victory in the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 18U National Championships.
"Two good teams playing hard," Stars coach Mark Wilhelm said. "We're missing a couple of guys today. We rode our horses. The guys that were here were ready to go. The tough thing is, we're one of the few split season teams. We haven't played a game together since November 7."
"Both teams played well," St Clair coach Matt Romaniski said. "It was a really fast game. We were 1-1 coming into the third period. A break here or there was going to win the game. It was a game of inches. They had the break when they needed it there in the third."
That break came off a faceoff deep in St. Clair's zone. William Schlichtig got the puck in the high slot on his backhand. He switched it to his forehand and let it rip through a crowd.
"We got the faceoff, and it just popped out," Schlichtig said. "I got it on my backhand and switched over. I just let it go and saw it go in the back of the net."
"Will has been big for us all year," Wilhelm said. "He plays in all situations. He plays man up, man down. He's a big body, works his tail off. We won the draw, and he put a good hard shot on net."
"They got a nice little bounce off the faceoff," Romaniski said.
Robert Kowalczyk made 30 saves in the losing effort. David Voigt stopped 22 of 23 shots for the win.
"The kid's an athlete," Wilhelm said of his goaltender. "The incredible thing is, going back two years ago to his high school team, he actually skated out a lot. He didn't even play much in net."
After a scoreless first period, the teams traded second period goals.
St. Clair scored first on a broken play. It resulted in Zach Pearson with the puck at the right circle. His on-ice shot beat Voigt at 2:37.
Southern Connecticut tied it up at 13:48. Nicholas Charron's shot was saved by Kowalcyk, kicking it out to his left. Michael Antoniou was right there to pounce on it, firing in the rebound.
After Schlichtig's go-ahead goal, the clincher came when Antoniou scored an empty-netter. It was a shot he took from in front of his own net that went all the way down the ice for his second of the night.
"It has been great," Romaniski said of the season despite the loss. "This has been the third year with the group of these boys. At the 16U level we won nationals, so our goal was to get back to the 18U nationals. We accomplished that. Obviously we wanted to win, but we played a great tournament."
Wilhelm was particularly proud of how his team came together after the split season.
"To get everyone on the same page, the kids worked their tails off. It's 100% credit to the character of the kids I got," Wilhelm said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.