When the Columbus Blue Jackets rattled off 16 straight wins spanning nearly six weeks this NHL season, every hockey fan around the country took notice.
It was some local players on the Ohio Blue Jackets 18U team who used it as motivation and took away a lot of positives.
“It was a real eye-opener for us that we were able to look at what they were doing, and every game for them was the next game, the next game, the next game,” Ohio Blue Jackets coach Ed Gingher said. “It’s something that we adopted on our end, and that to me is when our season really leveled out from a consistency standpoint. Our guys have really thrived under that.”
The Blue Jackets’ Youth Tier I 18U squad got on a roll, going 28-3-1 in one stretch, and they haven’t really been stopped since. The team outscored its opponents 28-2 in four victories to go undefeated in the USA Hockey Youth Mid-American District Tournament on March 17-19.
With the district title in hand, they advance to the 2017 USA Hockey Youth Tier I 18U National Championships in Pittsburgh beginning on April 6.
It’s a big step for the Blue Jackets program to get to Nationals after falling in the district championship game last year. The players who returned from that team had a chip on their shoulder all season.
“We had a tough pill to swallow last year, we were on the outside looking in,” Gingher said. “To put a team together and for them to step up and play as well as they did and to earn an opportunity to play at Nationals is pretty special.”
The Blue Jackets lost to Culver Academy 2-1 in the 18U championship in 2016, but got redemption against them this year with a 3-2 comeback victory.
“Any time you get two great hockey teams there, unfortunately somebody’s got to lose,” Gingher said. “It was our turn last year to not be on the right side of it, and they had a great team as well. This year, we were fortunate enough to get on the right side of it. Last year was a one-goal game; this year was a one-goal game. We just caught the extra break.”
The Blue Jackets trailed 2-0 in the opening seven minutes of the title game as Culver started fast.
“There were a few thoughts of doubt that crept into my mind, but soon left pretty quick,” Gingher said. “Our guys pretty much said to each other that we weren’t going to go down this way. They made some adjustments in how we played and we were pretty fortunate to get a couple breaks to get us rolling, and they were able to take advantage of it.”
Once the Blue Jackets players got composed, it was a whole new game. Culver led 2-1 entering the third and had a prime opportunity to go up two goals, but clanked a shot off the goalpost. The Blue Jackets took an odd-man rush down the other end of the ice and the team’s leading scorer, Alex Barber, tied the game and gave Ohio all the momentum. With about seven minutes remaining, Blue Jackets forward Elliot Burgin netted the eventual game-winning goal.
“I was so proud of our guys they were able to put it out, and to get that opportunity to win their way there was something special,” Gingher said.
The Blue Jackets cruised in their three round-robin games in districts, beating the Esmark Stars 10-0, Cleveland Barons 4-0 and Pittsburgh Vengeance 11-0.
Gingher’s team got contributions from all its players and he was pleased with the collective effort from his offense and defense. The Blue Jackets are averaging 4.87 goals per game this season while allowing just 1.68.
“I would say all year that one aspect has led to the other,” Gingher said. “It sounds very clichéd to say, but we’re our best when our forwards are helping our D and we don’t have to defend too much. Any team can probably say that, but I think our game is best played when we’ve got five guys involved defensively as well as offensively.”
Barber (27 goals, 70 assists) and Hunter Hogue (47 goals, 43 assists) are the Blue Jackets’ top scorers this season.
“When we’re at our best, they’re usually leading the way,” Gingher said.
Add in Burgin (77 points), Connor Pooley (74 points) and Drew Magyar (61 points) and the team has a strong offensive unit.
Four of the team’s six defensemen returned from last season and they’ve built a solid wall in front of goalies Max DeCoursey (1.57 goals-against average) and Sam Metcalf (1.77).
“Our game is very simple,” Gingher said. “We don’t overcomplicate it, we play hard. We get after it and we want to play with pace. We’re not a team that’s going to bog a team down.”
The Blue Jackets enter Nationals boasting the third-most wins in the country.
Both Culver Academy, at-large, and Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, the host team, also come out of the Mid-American District to compete at Nationals. The Pens Elite downed Culver 3-0 in last year’s national championship game.
The Blue Jackets, who will have a roster full of first-time Nationals participants, know they'll face a strong field of the country’s top teams.
“When you look at it, I’m not sure I’ve seen a better field,” Gingher said. “When you look at top to bottom, even the teams that are below are still really good hockey teams. Whoever comes out of it is definitely going to earn their way through. I’m just excited to be a part of it and I know our players are.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
|Youth Tier I (14U)||Scottsdale, Arizona||Arizona Amateur Hockey||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier I (15-year-olds only)||Scottsdale, Arizona||Arizona Amateur Hockey||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier I (16U, 18U)||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania||Pittsburgh Penguins Elite||April 6-10, 2017|
|Girls Tier I||Rochester/Macomb, Michigan||HoneyBaked Hockey Club||April 6-10, 2017|
|Women's A, B, C||Rochester/Macomb, Michigan||HoneyBaked Hockey Club||April 6-9, 2017|
|High School||Cleveland, Ohio||Cleveland Suburban Hockey||March 22-26, 2017|
|Girls Tier II||Troy, Michigan||Troy Youth Hockey Association||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier II (14U)||Coral Springs, Florida||Florida Panthers Ice Den||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier II (16U)||Frisco, Texas||Texas Amateur Hockey||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier II (18U)||Lansing, Michigan||Lansing Hockey Club||April 6-10, 2017|
|Sled||San Jose, California||Sharks Ice||April 6-9, 2017|
|Adult Rec Men's||Wesley Chapel, Florida||Florida Hospital Center Ice||April 20-23, 2017|
|Adult Rec Women's||Ellenton, Florida||Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex||April 27-30, 2017|
Tag(s): District Tourney News