SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Penguins Elite squad brought its blue-collar spirit to the Bay Area and was able to get results at the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 18U National Championships.
An overtime loss in pool play against the Chicago Fury was the only blemish on the Pittsburgh team’s path to a national title.
The most exciting game came in the semifinals, when the Penguins matched up with the North Jersey Avalanche. The defensive-minded game went into overtime knotted at one goal apiece before the Penguins captain Logan Stork netted the game-winning goal at 3:09.
Coach Kevin Quinn said the experience helped the team in the long run.
“Our strength is work ethic and speed,” he said. “We’ve been rewarded for getting back to our hard-working roots of Pittsburgh.”
Quinn had high praise for his goaltender, Chad Veltri, who led all goalies with five wins.
“Chad made a great save in overtime, and then we put a bunch of shots on their goalie,” he said.
Quinn also credited the “unsung heroes” on his team, “guys working really hard killing penalties and blocking shots.” However, the Penguins also benefitted from the tournament’s leading scorer. Jordan Timmons finished with 10 points, including a goal and two assists in the national championship game, which the Penguins won 3-0 over Culver Academy of Indiana.
Shattuck-St. Mary’s Upset
Perhaps the 18U team coming into the national championships with the highest expectations was Shattuck-St. Mary’s School of Minnesota. The traditional hockey powerhouse performed well throughout the regular season but fell to an Oakland (Mich.) Jr. Grizzlies team in the quarterfinals.
“We played exactly how we wanted to play,” Tom Ward, Shattuck’s 18U coach and hockey program director, said. “They did everything we asked them to do, but it just didn’t work out. It’s both gratifying and frustrating at the same time.”
Since the start of the current national championship format at the 18U level in 2005, Shattuck has won six times. No other team has won it twice. A lot of that success comes from the coaching skill and experience of Ward, who has instructed skaters like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise.
Although Ward has an unprecedented history of winning, he also knows that hockey can sometimes come down to things you can’t control.
“We played really well, but their goalie played out of his mind,” he said. “Goalies can make the difference; that’s just the way it goes. I wouldn’t take anything back, it’s just a strange sport sometimes.”
Oakland Jr. Grizzlies Make Memorable Run
Count Oakland associate head coach Nick Peruzzi among those not surprised that his team was able to upset Shattuck-St. Mary’s.
“Beating Shattuck-St. Mary’s was a great experience for us,” he said. “They are a historic, top-notch organization and we are on the relatively newer side. We’ve felt all along that we could get to this point, come under the radar a little bit and surprise some people, and I think we did that this weekend.”
This team was the first Jr. Grizzlies 18U squad to reach nationals. Its run ended with a 4-1 loss to Culver Academy in the semifinals.
“We are proud of that, and we hope that it can help put the organization on the map at the older levels, and that that success can continue,” Peruzzi said.
More than anything, the Grizzlies coaches were proud of their players’ efforts over the weekend.
“We’ve got 19 guys that have worked really hard all year, but I’d like to give a shout out to our defense and goaltending,” Peruzzi said. “Both of our goalies, Jack Leavy and Nikita Babintsev, gave us a shot to win every game and that’s all you can ask from them.”
Player Spotlight: Ryan Patrick
Culver Academy’s Ryan Patrick led his team in points and was a critical part in leading the team to the national title game. Through the semifinals, he led the entire tournament with four goals and four assists. Patrick’s best performance came in the 7-4 quarterfinal win against the Tampa Scorpions, when he scored three goals.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.