Top 20 Challenge Crowns New Champions In Heavyweight Tournament

It hasn’t been around for long, but the Eastside Elite Top 20 Challenge is already making a name for itself as a must-watch tournament in February.

Twelve teams on the U.S. rankings were in Metro Detroit for the second annual Top 20 Challenge, with 14U, 15O and 16U age groups competing for the championship belt.

Yeah, in these heavyweight battles, they give out belts, not trophies.

Corson Maguire (left) accepts the tournament MVP award from Eastside Elite director Steven Oleksy (right).

It was a busy stretch for the Eastside Elite crew, who held their own tournament in their Michigan backyard after helping Exposure Hockey with the Paradise Cup last weekend. They traded in sunshine for snow storms, but the hockey action was top-notch nonetheless.

Chicago Mission 14U — ranked No. 2 in the country and No. 8 in the world — won their age group, while No. 5 Little Caesars captured the 15U division and North Jersey Avalanche pulled off the upset in 16U.

The Mission 14U boys added another piece of hardware to their collection, after having already won an International Silver Stick title and the Exposure Cup earlier in the season. The talented group of 2007 birth-year players didn’t have the smoothest path through the preliminary rounds, but it didn’t matter in the end. After beating the Cleveland Barrons 6-0 to start Top 20 play, Mission fell to No. 8 Compuware 1-0 in their second Friday contest. A 10-2 win over the California Golden Bears on Saturday got Mission to the semifinals, despite a 3-2 loss to No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite to round out the prelims.

Sunday was a game of rematches for the Black and Green, as they posted their second win of the weekend over Cleveland, 5-4, in the semifinals. In the championship bout, Mission got the best of the Pens, beating them 3-1 to win the title. Cameron Aucoin was named MVP for Mission; he had a goal and an assist in the title win, and four total points in the tournament. 

Jacob Hutchen led Mission in scoring during their run to the Top 20 Challenge title, racking up three goals and five assists for eight points. Nathen Jastrzebski had seven points, while Jacob Borzecki and Ryan Aaronson had six apiece.

At the 15U level, the 2006 Little Caesars squad continued their dominant 2021-22 season with a win on relatively home ice. The 15U LC club started Top 20 tournament play with a thorough 10-0 beating of the Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers during a Thursday night snowstorm. They dropped their first game on Friday — a 2-0 loss to the No. 10 North Jersey Avalanche — but from there, it was four straight wins to capture the belt.

To round out preliminary-round play, LC topped Westchester Express 4-2. In the quarterfinals on Saturday, an in-state rivalry played out to Caesars’ favor, as they topped Compuware 3-2. The semifinal was another all-Michigan affair, and Caesars grinded out another 3-2 win, this time against HoneyBaked.

In the final, it was No. 5 vs. No. 6 in the U.S. rankings, as Caesars ran up against Pittsburgh Penguins Elite. Caesars took control early and never looked back, as they cruised to a 5-0 win thanks to goals from five different players.

Austin Baker was named MVP after posting 10 points in the six games for Caesars. John McNelis had nine points, while Lucas Van Vliet had five. Defensemen Charlie Michaud and Evan Sofikitis led the way from the blue line, both recording four points over the week.

The North Jersey Avalanche 16U boys really, really enjoyed their stay in Hockeytown, as they played to a nearly perfect week. To start, they posted a 6-1 win over the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies Thursday morning. Their only blemish came next, and that was a 3-3 tie against the Windy City Storm to wrap up the first day of tournament play. 

Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday were all undefeated days for the Avs. They started with a convincing 5-0 win over Chicago Mission, and then they posted a 5-2 win over the Sioux Falls Power. In Sunday’s semifinal, they played a rematch with the Storm, and this time the Avs won 5-1.

Monday’s championship bout was a rematch, as well, and this time, North Jersey beat Mission 4-1.

Corson Maguire was named MVP for his efforts, after recording seven points in six games. Brandon Hilton and Dashel Oliver led the team in scoring with nine points apiece, while Brian Nicholas had eight. Luke Baker led the blue line in scoring, as the defenseman racked up six points.

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