Nationals Notebook: Championships

Apr 3, 2023 | World Hockey Hub

2007-born youth hockey team Los Angeles Jr. Kings celebrate winning the 15O USA Hockey National Championship
Photo courtesy of USA Hockey

James Russell nets OT winner in thrilling 15O championship game

Peter Rossi, on-site at 15O Nationals

If there was one thing that became well known about the Los Angeles Jr. Kings during the 15O USA Hockey Nationals tournament, it’s that they handle pressure quite well. It was evident in their incredible overtime comeback against Mount St. Charles in the playoff quarterfinals. It was apparent once again as seen in today’s National Championship game against Shattuck-St. Mary’s

The game would be a special teams battle right up until the end of regulation. Wyatt Cameron opened the scoring on a man advantage when he slipped a shot through the pads of Seid-Ali Nabiev. With his team given another power play opportunity, Gavin Kor doubled the SSM lead just over a minute later. Kor found open space at the side of the net, and patiently waited for a perfect pass from Aaron Obobaifo and tapped it into the wide-open net. Kor and Obobaifo have been the engines for Shattuck’s potent power play success this tournament. Both scored three times with the extra skater, and combined for eight power-play points across all games. 

The Jr. Kings began to find their legs in the second period, forcing Shattuck goaltender Garrett Glaser to make a few crucial saves. Just as time was winding down, Joseph Gugino took a tripping call with 2:29 remaining. Already 0-2 on their power play to that point in the game, it was a critical moment for Los Angeles to have any chance at clawing their way back. After gaining the zone, Benjamin Kevan sent a pass towards the front of the net. It slid by a heap of Shattuck defenders before being corralled by Luke Norcross, who then backhanded it into the top of the net with 1:30 left. 

Cutting into the 2-0 deficit gave new life to the Jr. Kings. For the short remainder of the period, they had multiple chances to tie the game, including a breakaway by Kevan that was turned aside. 

Momentum would remain on the side of the Jr. Kings when Tyler Russell knotted the score at 2 just under two minutes into the final frame with a shot from the blue line. James Russell fed a puck up to Norcross, who gained the zone and fired it on net. He picked up his own rebound and sent it back to the point, when Tyler Russell sent it in from distance. 

The rest of regulation would be even for both squads, with both goalies standing tall in making saves to push this contest into overtime. On a power play early into overtime, Tyler Russell sent a stretch pass to James Russell who was darting up the ice. He skated into the Shattuck zone and whipped a short-side shot by Glaser’s glove to cement the Jr. Kings’ first-ever 15O National Championship.

Kevan, Kor prove to be among the best of the best 

It should not have come as a surprise to anyone that Benjamin Kevan and Gavin Kor ended up at the top of the point leaderboard tied with 14 points. Throughout Nationals, the two forwards had their names show up numerous times on stat sheets. Their play also stood out in the most important moments for their respective teams. 

Kevan collected his first two points in the Jr. Kings’ first game of pool play at USA Nationals with a goal and assist in a 5-3 win against the Neponset Valley River Rats. He followed that up with four points (1G, 4A) in a 7-1 victory over the New Jersey Rockets. In the team’s final game of group play, Kevan notched an assist in a 4-1 loss to the Bishop Kearney Selects

Los Angeles got back on track when they stunned Mount St. Charles in the quarterfinals. After assisting on the tying goal, Kevan scored the overtime winner to advance the Jr. Kings to the semifinals. A second hat trick was recorded against Pittsburgh Penguins Elite in on Sunday for Kevan, and he chipped in an assist there as well. 

Kor opened up his run at Nationals with back-to-back three-assist performances. He truly shined in the playoffs, recording seven points (4G, 3A), including three power play goals in the last two games.

Bishop Kearney completes unlikely run to capture 14U USA Hockey national championship

Craig Peterson, on-site at 14U Nationals

There was just under five minutes left in the second period. Top-seeded Chicago Mission maintained a 1-0 lead in the 14U USA Hockey national championship game. Not only that, but they held a significant edge in shots over Bishop Kearney, 13-8 as well. However, a wrist shot by Josh Henry would perfectly embody BK’s Cinderella story in Plymouth, Michigan.

Coming in as the No. 7 seed in the tournament, Bishop Kearney was likely the underdog in three of its last four games. It didn’t matter, though, as the deeper into Nationals they went, the better they got. That performance culminated with a 2-1 win over No. 2 seed Chicago Mission on Monday.

The game was incredibly tight from opening face-off to final horn. Through the first 10 minutes of game action, the two teams combined for just four shots on goal. Mission would go on the offensive, through the neutral zone only to be turned away by BK defenseman Kaden Sienko at the blue line. Sienko and company would regroup, bump up to Camden Nimmer and they’d take a turn at a rush. Only, his centering pass attempt would be deflecting by a mess of Mission sticks, and the defensive dance would continue.

Time after time, the two teams traded rushes, only to deny the other. It wasn’t sloppy or reckless offensive hockey, it was just the opposite. A beautiful display of defensive structure and commitment that got both of these teams to this point in the season.

Offense tough to come by in 14U Championship

With 6:18 left in the second period, Lukas Zajic made an impressive outside-inside move to get past Dominic D’eletto. From there, Zajic created enough space for himself to send a wrist shot high short-side over the left shoulder of Gavin Weeks. The highly skilled move and finish broke the 0-0 stalemate that the two teams were stuck in.

However, less than two minutes later, BK would respond with a goal that aptly defined the game, the tournament and their season.

Josh Henry collected a loose puck at the blue line and sent a quick wrist shot towards the Mission net. The puck skipped off of the skate of Cody Powels as he dropped to a knee, challenging the opposing shooter. It ricocheted end over end in an arc, out of sight to goaltender Jake Windbiel. The puck came down into the back of the net surprising players on both sides. A game that had quickly burst open was just as swiftly deadlocked again.

Henry’s goal was perfect, on both sides of the puck. He jumped on a turnover and quickly put a shot on goal. Powels was just as swift to respond, not only challenging the shooter but getting a piece of the shot in the process. Factor in Windbiel’s positioning in net as well as the tied up sticks in front. Players for BK and Mission had played the scenario perfectly. However, ‘puck luck’ just happened to break Bishop Kearney’s way. 

Just 50 seconds into the third period, Rudolfs Berzkalns would put home a long rebound shot from the slot to give BK a 2-1 lead.

Gavin Weeks proves to be best goalie, best player for Bishop Kearney

Bishop Kearney didn’t win games pretty. They didn’t have to. It was about playing disciplined hockey with timely scoring. Play the game the right way and good things happen. Oh, and having the best goaltender in the tournament helped too.

Any lead was safe with Gavin Weeks between the pipes. The 5-foot-10 goaltender was certainly the best at 14U USA Hockey Nationals, playing in all six games. He compiled a .947 save percentage and a 1.13 goals-against average and never let his team relinquish a lead in the tournament. 

In the quarterfinals, Weeks made 29 saves against the top-seeded offensive juggernaut Shattuck-St. Mary’s. He kept his team in the hunt as the 1-1 game entered overtime. Again in the semifinals, Weeks made 21 saves as the Boston Jr. Eagles out-shot and out-possessed BK with a late offensive push. Finally, in the championship, the New Hampshire native held the highest scoring offense in the tournament to just one goal. That ultimately kept Bishop Kearney in the game and won the 14U national championship.

In front of him was a very sound team effort. 

Tight gaps from the defensive group kept the high-flying Chicago Mission grounded. There was little time or space for dynamic scorers like Kalder Varga, Shaeffer Gordon-Carroll or Aurelio Garcia to get going. Even when Mission gained entry into the zone, they were met by stick checks, limited passing lanes and plenty of blocked or disrupted shot attempts.

With Weeks in net and a stout defensive effort, the 2-1 lead was all BK needed to secure the win and the 14U national championship.

It is the second time Bishop Kearney has won a USA Hockey national championship, but just the first time the program has done so at the 14U age group.


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