AMHERST, N.Y. — It’s not often that coaches embrace after a national championship game in which one was the victor and one the defeated.
But that was the type of mutual respect between South Hills Panthers coach Brett Adelman and Skaneateles coach Mitch Major after Adelman’s Panthers came from behind for a 3-2 overtime win in Monday’s championship game of the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 14U Nationals.
“We played them back in December in a championship game in Buffalo, actually, and they beat us 5-2,” Adelman explained after the game. “I approached their coach at the coaches’ meeting to tell him how I honestly think they are the best coached team we’ve ever played, in all the years I’ve ever been doing this at any level. We have the utmost respect for that team and how they play hockey, and they’re unbelievably smart and they’re unbelievably gifted. We knew what we were up against today — that it was gonna take perfection, almost, to get ’em.”
Major’s son Charlie gave Skaneateles a 1-0 lead just 11 seconds into the first period and scored again with just 16 seconds remaining in the first for a 2-0 lead.
But this was Adelman’s last game coaching, and his players wanted to send him off on a high note. Before Sunday’s semifinal game, Adelman and his fellow coaches gave the players five minutes alone in the locker room before warmups. They weren’t prepared for what happened when the boys came out to take the ice.
“They came out and every kid had tears rolling down their face coming out for warmups,” Adelman said. “It was just a strange sight, to see that. They are the greatest kids I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around. They’re just awesome. They really are.”
Anthony Carone chipped away at the Skaneateles lead with a penalty shot goal late in the second period, and the Panthers trailed by one for the rest of the second and most of the third.
South Hills goaltender Kyle Rohrich came into the game late with his team down, but he knew to always be prepared.
“I came on the ice thinking that I wasn’t gonna play, obviously, but you always gotta be ready,” said Rohrich. “I said I was feeling it to my dad, and I got my shot to go into the game, and we were down, but we all just had to stay strong together. And through the whole game, we stayed strong and got little boosts, took it into overtime, got a few good opportunities. It was a whole team effort, and we just won the game.”
When Adelman pulled Rohrich with 1:20 remaining in regulation, the goaltender knew his team was going to win. Winning was the only option.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘There’s no other way,’” he said. “With 30 seconds left, we scored. There’s no other way; we win the game. There was no other outlook.”
It was Carone who scored to tie the game with 35.8 seconds remaining in the third to send the game to overtime.
“It was pretty exciting,” Carone said. “It got the whole team going. It lit a fire. We had fire going into overtime because of that, and I got help from my whole team.”
Two Skaneateles penalties 38 seconds apart in overtime gave the Panthers a two-man advantage just past the halfway point of the first overtime period. It was Nick Nagy who scored on the power play to give his team and his coach a national championship, but he didn’t remember much about the most memorable moment of his career.
“I just know I called for the puck and as soon as it got on my stick, I shot,” Nagy said. “And then after that, I was just underneath a dogpile. I don’t remember in between.”
The players celebrated with each other and their coach, as this National Championship means a little more to the South Hills Panthers.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I never thought that this would ever happen,” said Rohrich.
“It’s the best feeling in the world right now,” said Carone.
“This is pretty cool,” said Nagy. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Tears welled up in Adelman’s eyes as he started to describe what this championship meant to him, but he was interrupted by Major.
“Couldn’t have happened to a better person,” the Skaneateles coach told him. “Congratulations.”
They shook hands as Adelman responded, “Dude, you know how I feel about you.”
And then Adelman continued.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for not just me, but the players,” Adelman said. “You couldn’t write a movie script the way this happened. To have them come out and score seconds in, put us in the headlights, deer in headlights, then to just keep battling, keep battling, keep battling, and then they got up 2-0 with a late goal. We got the penalty shot, we got a pulled goalie goal, and then an overtime winner. It was absolutely crazy.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.