ASHWAUBENON, Wis. — Ian Neureuther was ready for the big stage.
One day after coming in in relief and helping the Maine Moose win their Division 2A national semifinal in overtime in the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 18U Nationals, the goalie was called upon again.
“He went in and I thought he played really solid and calm last night,” Moose coach Jeff Ross said. “I just looked at him after the game and said, ‘Can you do this?’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’”
The coach was asking if his 16-year-old goalie was ready to start the national championship game the next morning.
Neureuther, one of the youngest players on the 18U team, showed he was more than capable of holding his own. Especially against an Ashburn Xtreme team that beat him one month earlier and has one of the most potent offenses, not just at the youth Tier II level, but the entire country.
Neureuther stopped 25 of 27 shots and his team broke a 2-2 tie with a goal with 2:08 remaining as the Moose captured back-to-back Tier II 18U Division 2A national titles by beating the Xtreme 4-2 at the Cornerstone Community Ice Center on Monday.
“To do it back-to-back is really exciting,” Ross said. “We struggled our first game of the tournament here. We hadn’t played together in a while and they slowly came along through the tournament.”
A number of Moose players have now won three straight national titles after winning the 16U championship in 2016.
Moose defenseman Chris Throndson, who scored the game-winning goal, captured his first title. But he wasn’t concerned about winning it for himself.
“It’s nice to get a win for the older guys in their last year,” Throndson said.
Ashburn averaged 6.1 goals per game entering the championship tilt. Maine, which was outshot 27-24, figured out how to slow down the Xtreme, who only scored two or less goals in five games this season.
“We just try to stay focused and cut down on their long passes if they do,” Neureuther said. “Just play our game.”
“They like to stretch pass, we did a good job on the big ice surface of crashing our net,” Ross said. “I think our D are real solid. They were able to play their guys one-on-one and our back-checkers did a pretty good job of picking up their trailers. They like that drop pass.”
The game went into the third period tied 1-1 when Moose forward Jacob Dubay scored an unassisted goal with 7:24 remaining. But the Xtreme weren’t done.
“We had the momentum going and we felt pretty good going into the third period, just got a lucky bounce,” Xtreme coach Bill Hughes said. “Kudos to them.”
Xtreme forward Mitch Rebholz found himself open in front of the net and went top shelf on Neureuther to tie it with 5:58 showing on the clock.
Ashburn (46-8-4) continued its relentless pressure in the offensive zone, but Neureuther and his defense rose to the challenge.
With Maine (34-10-3) working the puck down low in its end, the Moose players got the opportunity they had been waiting for.
“They were just all looking down at the net and I was just open up in the high slot,” Throndson said. “I just called for my teammates to pass it to me, I got it and just shot it hoping it would go in and it squeaked by.”
Patrick Sunderland got an assist for the nice pass as Throndson scored with just 2:08 left.
“He’s really had a great tournament for us,” said Ross about Throndson. “He knows how to pick the corners. The guys move the puck well to create that space for him down the high slot and he just buried that thing. He knows how to do that. He missed a couple earlier over the net, but he knows how to bury it. You give him that much time and space, he’s going to do that. And he did.”
Ashburn pulled its goalie with 52.7 seconds remaining and had a few chances for the equalizer. However, Maine defenseman Gavin Bates cleared the puck out of the zone after a scramble in front of the net. Moose forward Cameron Wilson raced to the other end of the ice and poked the puck into the empty net with 0.6 seconds remaining.
“Batesy came through,” Ross said. “He’s a big, strong kid. He won that muscle battle and got it out, and off we went. They were just determined to win, it was impressive.”
Neureuther watched from the other end of the ice as his teammates secured the victory and the national title.
“This is extremely incredible,” Neureuther said. “Priceless.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.