Expert Picks for 14U, 15O and 16U quarterfinals and beyond
The tournament system worked, at least at the 14U USA Hockey Nationals in Plymouth, Michigan. Quarterfinals are set, with what I would deem to be the best eight teams of the 16 in attendance this week. Plus, the way the matchups shook out, I think we’ll get the four best teams in the semifinals. And, you guessed it, I expect to get the two best teams in the championship game as well.
Of course, stranger things have happened in hockey. A team catches a little ‘puck luck’ or someone’s goalie gets hot at the right time. We’ve all seen it. However, after watching these teams all week, it really feels like a chalky playoff bracket.
Heavyweights make Final Four,
I know, I know… There’s no fun in that! But just because I expect the top seeds to win out, doesn’t mean we won’t see some fantastic hockey. Shattuck-St. Mary’s — my pick of 14U national champion — opens up with Bishop Kearney. BK is a gritty bunch that plays a really good brand of hockey. Gavin Weeks will keep this game close enough to give BK a puncher’s chance, but ultimately, Shattuck’s superiority shines down the stretch.
Pittsburgh Penguins Elite and Mount St. Charles is another incredible first-round matchup. PPE has looked near perfect at times. I like Pens Elite to make a run, but Mount won’t make it easy on them. Kase Kamzik, Brody George and Michael Ferentino are going to be forced to work for offense. It won’t come easy in this matchup, so I expect a grind. However, PPE still manages to prevail and put themselves in a great spot to advance.
If we draw chalky matchups in the semifinals, it’ll be an embarrassment of riches as far as talent goes. Shattuck, PPE, Chicago Mission and LA Jr. Kings are the four most skilled teams in the tournament. While it’s no guarantee we see all four in the semis, in the event that we do, it’ll be two heavyweight bouts. Tynan Lawrence, Logan Stuart, Kent Greer, George, Kamzik, Kalder Varga, Parker Trottier, Jake Brown, Noah Davidson, Shaffer Gordon-Carroll… U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) scouts would get a real good look at some of the best players the 2008-birth year has to offer in these potential matchups.
Shattuck has been the odds-on favorite to win the tournament from the very beginning. However, if there’s one team that could legitimately challenge SSM for the title, it’s PPE. That would be a dream championship matchup between the two best teams in the tournament for the biggest prize in American youth hockey. Buckle up, because the next three days should bring some close games, plenty of drama, and a 14U national champion.
Little Caesars primed to win it all at 15O Nationals
2007-born Little Caesars is positioned to do something the program has not done since 2019. That is the last time a 15O Caesars team was crowned as winners at the USA Hockey National Championships. Armed with a ton of depth, they were one of four teams to go 3-0-0 during pool play at this year’s tournament.
Caesars will open their playoff schedule with a matchup against the Long Island Gulls. It will be the fourth meeting of the season between the two; Caesars won two decisions by a combined 10-3. The Gulls were victorious in their most recent meeting back on February 5th, a 2-1 final in overtime. I expect Caesars to handle business here to move on to Bishop Kearney Selects.
Then, BK to be victorious in their first game over Shattuck-St. Mary’s. I haven’t been that impressed with SSM to this point in the tournament, and they dropped a tough decision on Friday to an opportunistic Mount St. Charles squad. Shattuck has been unable to beat Bishop Kearney in four tries this season, and I don’t see that changing this weekend.
Caesars and Bishop Kearney’s meeting should be one of the most exciting matchups we will get to enjoy this week. The boys from the Motor City won a lone regular-season game all the way back in September, but BK has really hit its stride in recent days. As good as they have been, depth will win out here, and Caesars certainly has that in spades. Four of the top 10 point getters at 15O Nationals hail from their squad. Caesars advances to the championship game.
A quarterfinal matchup between Chicago Mission and Pittsburgh Pens Elite is probably the most intriguing. Mission has shown how dominant they can be, but Pens Elite hung around during pool play in a tough USA Division. I was impressed with how hard they played Caesars, so Mission better be ready out of the gate in this one. I expect Mission to move on to play Mount St. Charles, but don’t be surprised if this game is so close that we get overtime in this matchup.
Mount St. Charles put together a solid run in its divisional contests. They ended pool play with an impressive victory against Shattuck, where goaltender Samuel Doyon-Cataquiz was spectacular. If he continues to stop the puck as well as he did in that game, Mount can find themselves heading into the final against Caesars. That being said, Mission goaltender Bjorn Bronas has been equally excellent. We might be in for a goalie duel in this one, and I trust Chicago’s defensive corps led by Asher Barnett, Holden Carter and Cameron Aucoin a bit more here.
This all sets up a showdown between Caesars and Mission for the championship. Caesars has defeated Chicago in four of seven games during the regular season. Two of the games have required overtime, where each team collected a win. Honestly, I don’t think you could pick a better final. With Mission’s defense having the ability to act as a fourth forward on the back end, to Caesars’ roster consisting of some of the best players of this birth year. It will be a thrilling finale to the USA Hockey season. In the end, give me players like Will Horcoff, Aiden Janz, Zachary Morin and Evan Jardine to continue to pile up the points in a win.
A 16U National playoff featuring plenty of rematches and rivalries
The 16U USA Hockey National tournament has shaken out in quite the unusual way. Top-seed Shattuck-St. Mary’s drew the No. 2-seed Long Island Gulls in the quarterfinals. Plus, a 3-v-4 matchup in familiar foes New Jersey Rockets and North Jersey Avalanche. Add on top of all that, a 7-v-8 matchup between Compuware and Chicago Mission, and we have some very intriguing first-round games. There’s no way to know this was going to be the draw pre-tournament, it’s just how pool play shook out with some unexpected outcomes. Nonetheless, it makes for a tournament that could potentially be decided on the first day of the tournament. I’ll explain…
Shattuck and Long Island came into the tournament as the top two teams in the field. Now, with them going head-to-head on Saturday, the winner opens up a nice path to a championship. Same could be said about the Compuware-Mission matchup, as the winner of that matchup should get to the finale as well. You get to the gold medal game and anything can happen. Ultimately, I think Shattuck prevails.