CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Cleveland Barons Tier I 15-Only team played much of its season well short of any roster limits.
When the Barons found themselves in power-play situations, they did not take advantage as often as coach Kyle Koennecke would have liked.
The Barons conquered both situations in winning the USA Hockey Mid-American District Tournament title March 11, allowing them to finish their season with a trip to the 2018 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 15-Only Nationals, April 5-10 in Plymouth, Michigan.
Defenseman Tristan Cavotta's power-play goal nearly midway through the second overtime combined with a 41-save shutout by Colin Purcell to lift the Barons over the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, 1-0, in the district championship game.
The Barons broke through on the second power play of the second overtime and their fifth chance of the game.
“That has not been a strength of ours recently,” Koennecke said. “Penalty kill has been for certain. The power play has improved a little, going into nationals, but it’s been a lot of hard work and goaltending and we’ve been in good shape from there.”
While the power-play goal may not have been something the Barons could count on, Purcell’s play was.
“That’s something we expect of him,” Koennecke said.
Cavotta perfectly placed the winning shot from the left circle, just inside the far post and under the crossbar.
“It was passed right over to me,” Cavotta said. “I kept my head up and just walked in a little bit, just hoping to put it on net and it went in.
“I feel like what we weren’t able to accomplish on the other power plays throughout the game kind of helped us hone in on what we needed to work on.”
Nothing came easy for the Barons in the district tournament.
With six teams playing three games each in the preliminary round, the Penguins Elite went 3-0 by a combined margin of 17-7.
Cleveland was one of three teams to go 2-1 and scored the least goals of those three, but its wins were both in regulation and its only loss was in overtime, giving the Barons an edge in the standings.
Although the Barons lost, 2-1, in a shootout in their March 9 opener against the Ohio Blue Jackets, one of the other 2-1 teams, getting into overtime saved them.
“We’re slow starters unfortunately, but the guys picked it up and earned a point, which is what got us here,” Koennecke said. “If we don’t earn a point in the first game, we don’t even get here.”
Playing later in the day against the Pittsburgh Icemen, who outscored their other two opponents by a combined 9-1 margin, the Barons rallied from a 3-1 deficit to pull out a 4-3 victory.
“Then we did what we had to to handle our business in the third game to get us here,” Koennecke said after the Barons posted a relatively routine 5-1 victory over the Esmark Stars on the second day of the three-day event.
Before getting to the Pittsburgh suburb for the district tournament, the Barons had already shown their ability to deal with difficult situations.
“We’ve been shorthanded all year,” said Koennecke, who pointed to injuries as one of the factors in the team dressing an average of 11.8 skaters per game throughout the season. “We’re still shorthanded compared to most teams we’re playing.
“We’re a team that grinds.”
And, a team that showed the ability to come through in the clutch in the district tournament.
Cleveland scored three third-period goals against the Icemen.
Jonathan Felouzis scored early in the period to start things off. Max Dover assisted on Logan Cleary’s tying goal with 6:38 left, then scored the game-winner with 1:25 remaining.
Josh Tomasi also had a goal and an assist while Purcell made 26 saves.
Cleary, who won the faceoff to assist the tournament-winning goal, had a goal and three assists against Esmark. Dover added a goal and an assist.
Through it all, Purcell, who played for St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland last year, stood strong.
“I made the move to Triple-A this year and it’s been a very productive move for me,” Purcell said.
Purcell kept the Barons in the championship game when they were outshot, 11-5, in the first overtime and 41-30 overall.
“It’s unbelievable,” Purcell said. “We’ve always played close games throughout the season.
“It seems like every game is a low-scoring game with a lot of shots back and forth. I could haven’t have done it without the perseverance that our team showed.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc