Players on the Chicago Mission celebrate one of their six goals in the victory over the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies. (Photo by Carmo Photography)
WEST CHESTER – Nine trips to the penalty box is difficult to overcome.
When three of those result in a goal for the other team, the mountain to climb becomes even bigger.
Nevertheless, the Chicago Mission faced these obstacles, and still prevailed in a 6-4 victory over the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies in the semifinals of the Tier I 16U USA Hockey Youth National Championships.
After the first period left the Mission facing a two-goal deficit, they used two quick strikes inside the first four minutes of the second period from Kyle Aucoin and Cam Thiesing to make it a brand new game.
“I think we just tried to stick with our game plan, we know it’s two goals but there’s a lot of hockey left,” Chicago head coach Anders Sorensen said. “That was the message we were trying to reinforce and just keep playing.”
Sorensen credited Thiesing’s tying goal as a game changer.
“That was a really nice play by Cam, and that kind of showed what we needed, the energy and the compete level and taking the puck to the net hard,” he said. “The first one was big, but the second one was really big.”
Thiesing added his second of the day with four minutes, 22 seconds left in the second period to take a 3-2 lead. The lead was extended to two just a few minutes into the third on a Landon Slaggart goal.
Combining for five points in the win, Sorensen praised the play of Thiesing and Slaggart.
“The funny thing is they haven’t played a lot together, but today we put them back together halfway through the first and all of a sudden they just clicked,” Sorensen said. “They made some big time plays today so it was nice.”
“It was awesome, our line was just rolling,” Slaggart added. “We were really feeling it today and it showed on the scoreboard.”
John Johnson restored the two-goal lead for the Mission after Jr. Grizzlies defenseman Dalton Norris made it a 4-3 game. Despite a late goal from Oakland’s Andrei Bakanov with 2:35 left in the game, Mission forward Joshua Lopina put the icing on the cake with an empty netter.
With a championship to play for, Sorensen knows his team will have to limit the penalties if they wish to bring a title back to Chicago.
“We just gotta be a little bit smarter with our sticks,” he said. “If we just keep moving our feet and keep our sticks toward the puck I think we’ll be fine. We didn’t do that from time to time today so that’s the biggest thing for us right now.”
Slaggart knows his team is 60 minutes from the ultimate victory.
“I think things are really coming together as a group,” he said. “We know what we need to do, we just need to finish the job.”
Team Wisconsin 3, Anaheim jr. Ducks 2
With a spot in the national championship game on the line, Team Wisconsin entered their semifinal game versus the Anaheim jr. Ducks knowing it would be closer than their previous four games at the Tier I 16U USA Hockey Youth National Championships.
The game was in fact a close one, but Wisconsin still prevailed 3-2 to advance to Tuesday's title game.
Deadlocked at 2-2, Wisconsin's Sam Stange received the puck in the neutral zone, and found teammate Cole Danielson sneaking behind a Ducks defenseman. Danielson did the rest, putting the puck in the back of the net to score the game winner.
Wisconsin assistant coach Craig Johnson admitted this was the first time his team had faced adversity.
"To be honest with you I thought Anaheim worked hard, I thought they worked harder than we did probably for a majority of the game," Johnson said. "For about 43 minutes I thought they outplayed us."
In a back-and-forth affair, Wisconsin got on the board first on a goal from Drake Baldwin. Anaheim responded wth a goal of their own by Jackson Niedermayer, but Stange regained the lead for TW. With a few minutes left in the second period, Jr. Ducks forward Ryan Green got his name in the goal column to knot the game at two."
With their end goal of a national championship in sight, Johnson is excited for another battle with the Chicago Mission, who they have already played four times this season.
"The kids earned it all year, they deserve to be here and I’m excited for the opportunity tomorrow," he said. It’s gonna be a heck of a battle for a national championship."