ASHWAUBENON, Wis. — “Sisu” is a widely-used term in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
The Finnish word means to have grit, determination and perseverance, according to Micah Stipech.
“All the boys know that, and sisu is what they brought,” said Stipech, who is the coach of the Tier II 18U team Copper Country.
“This tournament is hard, and it’s supposed to be hard, we want it to be hard. In order to get through the ups and downs, you have to have sisu.”
The Copper Country players exhibited plenty of sisu in the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 18U Nationals title game on Monday.
After the Wonderland Wizards cut the deficit to 2-1 early in the third period, the Copper Country guys used grit, determination and perseverance to up their game. The result was a three-goal outburst the rest of the way as Copper County won back-to-back Division 3A national titles with a 5-1 victory at the Cornerstone Community Ice Center.
“We knew coming into this game we were confident even though we have injuries and a player kicked out, but we just battled through it,” Copper Country forward Brent Loukus said. “We knew if we played our game we could get through it.”
Copper Country certainly played its game. It dictated the pace and dominated the action in its end.
“This is really special,” Copper Country forward Ted Randell said. “I’m done with this team. I’m moving on to junior hockey, so it’s awesome to go back-to-back. That’s two under my belt, and it feels really good.”
In all honesty, Stipech wasn’t sure his guys would become repeat champions this season.
“Until today, I didn’t feel confident about this year,” Stipech said. “There’s always things we need to improve upon. But the way they played today, this was the best game of the year — their effort level and their execution.”
Copper Country capped its season by winning all six of its games at nationals. Its toughest game of the tournament came just two days earlier in round robin action against the very same Wonderland Wizards.
Copper Country led 3-1 in the third period on Saturday before the Wizards extended the game. It went to a seven-round shootout before Copper Country prevailed.
In the title game, Copper Country peppered Wizards goalie John McGee with 50 shots. McGee is used to playing in big games, having won a state title with Fairfield Prep three weeks earlier.
“We just emphasized putting pucks on the net, going to the net, making life hard for him,” Loukus said. “We got it done.”
Wizards coach Ben Vaill tried to have his players put a body on the Copper Country guys to neutralize their speed.
“We thought with the smaller rink we could slow them down a little bit because we played them on the Olympic rink, but we couldn’t stop them,” Vaill said.
Copper County (29-1-2) up went 2-0 after a pair of second-period goals. Early in the third, the Wizards (27-6) were awarded a penalty shot when Thomas Richter was dragged down en route to the net. Richter buried his penalty shot to make it 2-1 with 16:26 remaining.
Surrendering the goal fired up the Copper Country players.
“We came back, we’re like, ‘All right, boys, no matter what happens we keep battling. No matter if they score, we’re going to keep going,’” Randell said. “We did that and came back with a couple goals.”
With plenty of traffic in front of the Wizards goalie on a delayed penalty, Loukus had the puck pop out to him, he spun around and shot it from the slot. “Hoping for good things,” Loukus’ shot found all twine for a goal.
Copper Country iced the game a couple minutes later thanks to the Randell boys, Ted and Bryce.
“We’re a quick transition team, so as soon as we got the puck we’re going up the ice,” Ted Randell said. “As soon as that puck got turned over to my brother, I was just like, ‘Go, go.’ So, I went and he hit me with a nice pass. I kind of was on a break and I made a move and it went in.”
Copper Country made it 5-1 when Brendan Erickson scored on the power play with 2:15 remaining.
Stipech loved bringing home another national title for the players as well as everyone in the Upper Peninsula.
“I feel great for the kids and our community,” Stipech said. “I really feel great for the Copper Country.”
Everyone with sisu is feeling great after back-to-back titles.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.