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Pens Elite Advance to Nationals at Three Age Levels

By Greg Bates, 03/31/17, 2:30PM MDT


Tier I 14U, 15 and 16U all win MidAmerican District Titles

The Pittsburgh Penguins had two Youth Tier I 14U teams last year — Elite and Elite Black — so the addition of a 15-year-old field at this year’s USA Hockey Youth Tier I National Championships was a great thing for Penguins program.

This year’s Elite 15 team is a mixture of the two former 14U teams — 10 players from one team, nine from the other to go along with one new player.

That new group blended together nicely and played well all season, winning the USA Hockey Mid-American District Tournament at the Pittsburgh Ice Arena on March 17-19 to earn a spot in Nationals in Scottsdale, Arizona, April 6-10.

“I think what’s helped our success is how quickly they became a team, how quickly they seem to be able to get along,” Elite coach Paul Taibi said. “They all seem to really enjoy playing together. I think that has contributed to a lot of our success.”

The Elite entered the district tournament as one of the favorites, so Taibi and his players had their sights set on Nationals.

“The expectations are you’re expected to win, and sometimes that puts a little more pressure on you,” Taibi said. “I thought the kids played very well in spite of that.”

The Elite downed the Esmark Stars 6-1 and Dayton Stealth 7-1 to open the tournament. Pittsburgh had its toughest matchup against the Ohio Blue Jackets, a 2-0, hard-fought victory to advance to the championship game. The Elite beat the Cleveland Barons 4-0 to win the tournament.

District Champions

Youth Tier I

14U: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite

15: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite

16U: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite

18U: Columbus Blue Jackets

Taibi was impressed by a total team effort in the tournament, outscoring its opponents 19-2.

The Elite would like to take some momentum into Nationals after a strong district run.

“I hope so, but there’s such a lag between districts and when you actually get to play in Nationals that it’s kind of tough to carry momentum over,” Taibi said. “But we’ve had some good practices and I would like to think it’s more of a confidence thing for the kids.”

The Elite will face a stacked field, but they have confidence from how tough they’ve played some of the nation’s best teams this season.

“I’d be very disappointed if we weren’t in every game,” Taibi said. “It just depends on which way the puck bounces, so to speak, on how those games come out.”

Penguins Elite Tier I 14U Cruises

It’s been a trying season for the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Youth Tier I 14U squad.

Coach Milo Cermak believes all but one of his players missed games this season due to injury. The Elite were about as healthy as they have been all season as the team tallied 29 goals in four games to win the Mid-American District title to head to Nationals.

“The boys definitely came together and played very well,” Cermak said. “We were finally somewhat healthy. That was our major issue all year. We only played about three weekends out of the year with everybody in the lineup.”

The Elite tallied victories over the Tri-State Spartans 6-1 and Pittsburgh Penguins Black 10-6 before taking down the Pittsburgh Selects 6-1. In the championship game, the Elite earned a dominating 8-1 victory over the Cleveland Barons.

“I know the guys had a chip on their shoulder, because Cleveland played us tough throughout the season,” Cermak said. “They tied us three times out the four games we played. They have a good goalie and they’re a decent skating team, but very physical.”

The Elite’s offense really came together in the tournament. The team’s shorthanded defense was also instrumental in getting to Nationals.

“We started with good goaltending and on defense,” Cermak said. “In some cases, we had forwards stepping back in D and filling in for a couple injured guys or guys in penalty trouble, and they held their own. It was a very good team effort.”

It will be a first-time experience at Nationals for the young 14U players. It’s something the guys have been striving for since they were little.

“These guys have been together since 10U major — we have nine guys that have been together for five years,” Cermak said. “Every year we added important pieces and just continue to improve the team.”

Culver Academy Wins at Tier I 16U

The Culver Academy Youth Tier 16U team played at Nationals last season and went 1-2, so there’s a little unfinished business for the eight or nine holdover players who will get a chance at redemption this year after Culver won the Mid-American District on March 19.

“Every time you’re put in these scenarios, these are all experiences and learning opportunities for everybody,” Culver coach Aris Brimanis said. “Hopefully, they learned a little bit coming up through the district and learned what it is to be a complete team. Having everybody working toward the same goal, that’s going to make any team successful.”

Getting back to Nationals is a big thing for Culver, which has built a tradition as a hockey power in Indiana.

“We don’t hang our hat on those accolades, but it’s a nice reward for all the hard work and the sacrifice all the players have had to put in throughout the course of the year,” Brimanis said.

Culver opened the district tournament with an 8-0 win over the Pittsburgh Predators and followed with a 6-1 victory over the Tri-State Spartans. Then things got interesting. The Cleveland Barons took Culver to overtime in a scoreless battle. Less than one minute into the extra session, Fisher Shea ended the game with a goal for Culver. In the championship game, Culver and Esmark Stars went to overtime with Cooper Fensterstock scoring the game winner.

“It was pretty exciting for them,” Brimanis said. “We had a huge save on one end, that’s the way hockey goes, and then turn around the other way and there it goes.”

Facing some adversity at districts should help the Culver players as they settle in at Nationals.

Culver has been playing strong defensively all season, and that’s led by goalies Carson Polish and Grant Adams. Both players were a part of last year’s Nationals squad and split time in net all of this season.

“We don’t want to rely on them, but we feel pretty confident with either one of them in net,” Brimanis said.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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2017 USA Hockey National Championship Sites

Division Location Host Dates
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