PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Tier I hockey and tee-ball are at opposite ends of the sports spectrum, but there are those times when every participant really does deserve a trophy.
When the Mid-Fairfield Chiefs and Team Wisconsin locked up in an epic overtime showdown, it was a shame that either team was going to skate off the ice without the championship hardware in hand.
But USA Hockey only hands out one first-place medal to one team, and Chiefs earned theirs thanks to a 32-save performance by Strauss Mann and Nick VanBelle's overtime heroics.
"It sucks that there has to be a winner and a loser because both teams worked hard, but it’s good we came out on top. I think we earned it," said VanBelle, who made his only goal of the tournament a big one when he banged in a Ryan Doolin rebound at the 15:57 minute mark of the extra session.
"Both teams were giving it their all out there and we were just fortunate to be able to outwork them a little bit at the end and get that winning goal."
After starting the season together, Mid-Fairfield watched its players scatter to play for seven different prep schools around New England before reuniting two weeks prior to heading off to Pittsburgh. From the drop of the puck, the Chiefs looked as if they had played together all year, which was a tribute to great coaching and the tight bonds that withstood the test of time and distance.
"These kids really bought into what we talked to them about," said head coach Shawn Conner. "They just constantly shocked us with how they consistently exceeded our expectations."
After beating a tough and disciplined Culver Academy team to get here, they continued to exceed expectations as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
The Chiefs opened the scoring thanks to the hard work of Jordi Jefferson, who picked a Wisconsin defender's pocket and found Christian LeSeuer staring at an empty net.
They padded the lead 19 seconds into the second frame when Ryan Doolin took a pass from Nick VanBelle and drove hard to the net to beat Wisconsin goaltender Sam Dunn.
As their first four opponents learned the hard way, no lead is safe when facing this spunky and skilled team from the heartland of America.
Cole Caufield may not the biggest or the strongest player on the ice. And he's probably not the fastest skater or possesses the hardest shot. But the Mosinee, Wis., native has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Just ask Shattuck-St. Mary's, whose season came to an end when Caulfield scored the game winner in overtime in the semifinals.
He was back at it on Monday, scoring 14 seconds into the final frame to cut the lead in half with his tournament-leading seventh goal. Ian Malcolmson followed suit less than three minutes later to knot the score.
"We’ve played better games, which is probably the toughest pill for these guys to swallow," said Wisconsin head coach Luke Strand. "Our game from the beginning to end was like night and day. We needed to have a better start, especially against such a talented team."
With momentum on their side, Brady Bjork gave Wisconsin a short-lived lead before Christian LeSeuer tucked a shot under the crossbar for an unassisted power-play goal to force an extra session.
"The boys played their hearts out. I don’t know how much gas they had, either team. I think they were playing on pure adrenaline," Conner said in between hugs with his players. "I’m just so happy for our guys. I’ve never seen a team come together so quickly and play that hard in my life."
|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|