CRANBERRY, Pa. – The depth of talent on the 14U level in the host Pittsburgh Penguins Elite program was on display during the March 9-11 USA Hockey Mid-American District Tournament.
The Penguins Elite not only had the best team, but had the best two teams in the six-team field.
“We never play each other,” head coach Brian Mueller said after his Penguins Elite team shut out Penguins Elite Black, 4-0, to earn the Mid-American’s berth at the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 14U Nationals, April 5-9 in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We practice together every week: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, we’re always on the same ice and always pushing each other.”
Elite Black is the second team within the program, but it combined with the champions to go 5-1 and outscore opponents 33-5 in the preliminary round.
Elite Black and Tri-State were each 2-1, but Elite Black won the tiebreaker with a 3-1 win in their head-to-head meeting the morning of the championship game. It was the only team to come within four goals of the Penguins Elite championship squad in the tournament.
“This is a first-ever,” Mueller said. “We’re fortunate to be able to have two AAA teams at each birth year, so we’re able to develop more kids in Pittsburgh.
“It’s a great accomplishment for us to get both to the final and play.”
Penguins Elite outshot Elite Black, 46-12, with the advantage at 46-7 until the game’s final 40 seconds.
Ryan Walker had a hat trick in the tournament-opening, 9-0 rout of Sylvania. Shawn O’Donnell added two goals and an assist.
Justin Cataldo only needed to make 11 saves for his shutout and Michael Brown had 13 in the 8-0 shutout of the Esmark Stars the next day.
Jack Musa had two goals and Colby Saganiuk had a goal and two assists against Esmark.
Musa then scored the first two goals and finished with a hat trick in an 8-3 win over the Ohio Blue Jackets. Nicholas Sewecke added two goals while Carter Schade had a goal and two assists.
Pittsburgh heads to nationals with a 47-10-4 record, including 16-1 with just 16 goals allowed since Jan. 20.
The Pittsburgh Penguins Elite was one of four teams to win Mid-American District titles — and the nationals berths that went with them — in the finals at the UPMC Mario Lemieux Center, which serves as the Pittsburgh Penguins training facility.
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Youth Tier I
14U: Penguins Pens Elite
15-Only: Cleveland Barons
16U: Esmark Stars
18U: Culver Academy
Youth Tier II
14U: South Hills Panthers
16U: Armstrong Arrows
18U: Mid State Mustangs
14U: Bowling Green
16U: Toledo Cherokee
18U: Sylvania Northstars
14U: Indianapolis Junior Fuel
18U: Fort Wayne Force
Girls Tier I
14U: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite
16U: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite
19U: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite
Girls Tier II
14U: Steel City Selects
16U: Steel City Selects
19U: Steel City Selects
Tier I Roundup
Culver Academy used stingy defense to get to the championship game where it showed off a balanced offensive attack.
Eight Culver players had two points each in a 7-3 victory over the Esmark Stars in the final, sending the Indiana team to the Tier I 18U Nationals in West Chester, Pennsylvania, April 5-9.
Jackson Pierson scored two goals. James Shea scored on the power play and joined Mason Lohrei, Brock Paul and Dylan Pitera with a goal and an assist. Connor Caponi, Connor Merrill and Dom Vidoli had two assists each.
Parker Brown scored twice, including a short-handed goal, for Esmark.
Culver posted two shutouts and defeated Esmark 3-1 in the preliminary round.
Grant Adams made 26 saves for the win in the first Culver-Esmark meeting.
Merrill had two goals and assisted on the other, Pierson had a goal and two assists and Pitera had two assists.
Adams (13 saves) and Wisco (12 saves) combined on Culver’s 2-0 shutout of Gilmour to start the tournament.
Culver shut out the Cleveland Barons, 4-0, behind 18 saves by Alexander Wisco to finish as the only 3-0 team out of six in the preliminary round.
Merrill had a pair of power-play goals while Pitera, Lohrei and Pierson had two points each.
Esmark went 2-1 and racked up a plus-7 scoring margin to win the tiebreaker over the Ohio Blue Jackets.
The Esmark 16U team is also headed to West Chester for its nationals appearance after edging Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, 2-1, in the final.
Both teams had gone 3-0 in the preliminary round.
The Penguins had outscored opponents 16-1 before being shut down by Esmark in the title game.
Craig Perry made 35 saves in the win.
Gregory Ferri scored on the power play with 11 seconds left in the first period, then Ryder Brophy made it 2-0 early in the third period.
Defenseman Alex Raketich broke the shutout with a power-play goal with 7:50 left, but the Stars held on from there.
Esmark sandwiched a pair of one-goal preliminary round wins around a 6-1 romp over Tri-State in which it jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first period and finished with a 49-15 shot advantage.
Western Pennsylvania Tier II
Playoffs to determine Western Pennsylvania’s representatives in the various Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II Nationals were held March 9-11 at the Alpha Ice Complex in Harmarville.
The Mid-State Mustangs, Armstrong Arrows and South Hills Panthers won the berths.
Mid-State emerged from a five-team playoff, holding all four opponents to a single goal while going undefeated in 18U.
Armstrong also went 4-0 in a five-team 16U tournament.
South Hills went 5-0, outscoring its 14U opponents by a total of 30-8. After going 3-0 in the preliminary round of the seven-team tournament, the Panthers defeated the North Pittsburgh Wildcats, 4-2, in the semifinals and the Aviators, 8-1, in the final.
Other Tier II
The Sylvania North Stars (18U), Toledo Cherokee (16U) and Bowling Green Ice Cats (14U) will represent Ohio in national tournaments.
The 18U and 16U teams play fall seasons, then get back together in time for nationals.
Toledo went 18-2 with 11 shutouts while holding four other opponents to a single goal.
Bowling Green allowed just three goals in three games in the four-team, round-robin March 8-11 to decide the berth.
The Fort Wayne Force, in 18U, and Indianapolis Junior Fuel, in 14U, will represent Indiana.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc