WAYNE, N.J. — The second meeting of the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U Nationals between the St. Lawrence Thunder and the Southern Connecticut Stars bore no resemblance to the first.
Similarly, the third period of Monday’s Division 3A championship game looked entirely different than the first two.
After going 38-and-a-half minutes without a goal, the Thunder broke through with four in a row over the final 12-and-a-half minutes, riding an Isaac Testani hat trick to a 4-2 victory at the Ice Vault.
“You’ve just got to play your hardest,” said Testani, whose 10 goals were twice as many as the tournament’s next-highest scorer. “You’ve got 17 minutes left [going into the third], it’s all you have left to see how far you can go.
“You just give it your all and play your hearts out.”
The Thunder and Stars had made it to 2-0 going into Saturday’s final game of the Olympic Pool, one of the quartet of four-team groups that made up the field.
St. Lawrence rolled, 6-1, in the first meeting, using a three-goal second period and another score in the first minute of the third to open a 5-0 lead.
Testani had two of the second-period goals and finished the game with four points. Edward Bannister also scored twice and added an assist. Testani and Bannister were the tournament’s top two point-scorers with 14 and 10.
The rematch had much more suspense with the teams carrying a scoreless tie into the third period and the Thunder needing Rico DeMatteo to stop a clean breakaway late in each of the first two periods to keep the game that way.
“I think the biggest difference between the first meeting and [Monday] was that we kind of got out on them quick and got them on their heels,” Thunder coach Mark Goodenow said. “I think maybe they hadn’t seen a team quite like us up to that point.
“[Monday], I think we were squeezing the sticks a bit early with the nerves. The longer it stayed close, the more energy they gained, so we really had to find a way to get some pushback.”
The Stars struck first when Travis Nussbaum scored from in front, 3:59 into the third period.
St. Lawrence’s response to its only deficit of the tournament was impressive.
The Thunder tied the game 31 seconds later, then went ahead 1:19 after that. They built the lead to 4-1 before the Stars picked up a goal when the puck made its way across the goal line just before the final buzzer as the championship celebration started just a bit too soon.
Testani scored three different ways. He hit the tying goal from a tough angle on the right side. The junior, who played high school hockey for Ogdensburg Free Academy during the winter season, added an insurance goal for a 3-1 lead on the power play with 3:10 left, then scored a short-handed goal into an empty net with 45 seconds remaining.
Cameron Carter came down the left side of the slot on a rush to get to a pass and quickly put a shot under the crossbar for the go-ahead goal.
The championship game victory completed an unbeaten six-game run through the tournament for the Thunder, based in Massena, New York, on the Canadian border. St. Lawrence handed Southern Connecticut its only two losses of the tournament as well as inflicting the only regulation loss of the tournament on the Oakland (Michigan) Jr. Grizzlies in the semifinals.
St. Lawrence made an impressive run through the brackets.
The Thunder needed 33 saves from DeMatteo to get past the Armstrong (Pennsylvania) Arrows, 3-2, in the quarterfinals. Armstrong had finished second in Division 2A when the tournament was played at the Ice Vault two years ago.
St. Lawrence was in north Jersey that year, too, before losing to the Oakland in the semifinals.
When the same two teams met in this year’s semifinals, the Thunder opened a 6-0 lead through two periods of a 7-1 semifinal win over the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies.
“We felt we could compete,” Goodenow said. “I don’t know if you ever expect a national championship, but we hoped that if the guys stuck together and continued to grow and get better, we could be playing today.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.