WAYNE, N.J. — The Armstrong Arrows learned about their own capabilities from trips to the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U Nationals the past two years.
Armstrong emerged as a national finalist on the 3A level when the tournament was last held at the Ice Vault just two years ago.
That finish has the Arrows hungry to move one step higher in their return trip, but it also makes them well aware not to overlook any opponent.
“It was talked about today,” Arrows coach Lee Grafton said after his team rallied for a 3-2, overtime win over the Ashburn (Virginia) Xtreme in the first set of games played Thursday morning. “ … We were pretty much discussing that any team here can win it. Every team here has the same goal we do.
“We were the team that wasn’t supposed to be in the finals two years ago and we were, so make sure we don’t take anybody lightly.”
The Mid-American District champion Arrows from western Pennsylvania, who also advanced to the semifinals a year ago, piled up a 47-16 shot advantage, but were playing from behind late in the second and early in the third period.
“I thought our team skated hard and with speed all game,” Grafton said. “We had a lot of chances, just didn’t bury many pucks.”
Benjamin Speyer kept Ashburn in the game with 44 saves.
“Their goaltender made some great saves,” Grafton said. “He stood big in net.”
Jace Rearic’s power-play goal with 11:58 left in regulation set up the overtime.
Defenseman Dustin Geregach joined a rush early in the overtime and wound up getting to the net to score the game-winner, his second goal of the game, just 2:49 into the extra session.
Ronan Miller picked up his second assist on the winning goal.
Michael Orban also had two assists in the win. Matt Commendatore gave the Arrows a 1-0 lead after one period before Ashburn moved in front with a pair of second-period goals.
Rearic, Miller and Greg Smith, who got the win in goal with 14 saves, are all back for their third nationals trip. They were part of the national runner-up team while playing up an age group in the previous visit to the Ice Vault.
Rearic shared the scoring lead for last year’s team at the tournament with two goals and two assists in five games.
Forwards Luke Killmeyer, Case Haberstroh, Ryan Mickey, Michael Orban, Rearic and Miller; defensemen Brandon Will and Geregach; and goalie Smith are all back from last year’s trip to Frisco, Texas.
Half of the 16-team field, including the defending champion Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, is back again in the Division 3A field.
The Grizzlies scored twice in the last two minutes to force overtime, but wound up losing to the Hershey Jr. Bears, 5-4, in a shootout in another Thursday morning game.
Hunter Neiss scored twice for Hershey while Cade Helmer had a goal and assist in regulation, then the deciding goal of the shootout.
Among the other returning teams are 2017 quarterfinalists Team Wisconsin, the Southern Connecticut Stars and Tampa Scorpions. Ashburn is also back, along with the Highland Park Falcons and Montgomery Blue Devils.
The Maine Moose, who beat Armstrong in the 2016 final at the Ice Vault, also return. Maine opened with a 5-1 win over the Twin Bridges Lightning Thursday afternoon.
The tournament continues through Monday morning when 3A, 2A and A champions will be determined.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.