Nationals Notebook: Day 1

Mar 29, 2023 | World Hockey Hub

Photo by Craig Peterson | World Hockey Hub
Photo by Craig Peterson | World Hockey Hub

Butella’s natural hat trick leads 16U Mission past Little Bruins

Peter Rossi, remote coverage of 16U Nationals

The 16U USA Nationals got underway in San Jose, California today and Chicago Mission’s Eero Butella wasted no time in getting his name on the scoresheet. Scoring two goals in the first period and adding one in the second, Butella’s natural hat trick helped propel Mission to a tournament-opening victory against the Boston Little Bruins, 7-3. His last two goals also came on the man-advantage, which finished 2-for-2 in the matchup. The stellar game continues a fantastic last couple of weeks for Butella, who was called up to USA Hockey’s National Under-17 Team for a weekend series back on March 17th.

Barron’s late goals push Compuware into win column

Mount St. Charles and Compuware found themselves in a very even contest this afternoon at 16U Nationals in San Jose, California. With Compuware holding a 2-1 lead late in the second period, Vincent Ipri knotted things up with just a second remaining on the clock. At 14:50 of the third, David Ehrhard put Mount up 3-2. Not phased by the deficit, Michael Barron decided to take matters into his own hands. Finishing off a perfect pass from Dennis Lominac, Barron tied the game at 3 with just over two minutes left in regulation. Just 1:33 later, he struck again for his second of the game, connecting once more with Lominac. 

Jr. Coyotes’ offensive outburst sinks BK Selects 

The Phoenix Jr. Coyotes came out of the gate strong, opening the scoring in their clash with Bishop Kearney Selects. However, two late penalties would both result in power-play goals for the Selects, sending them into a 2-1 deficit. After more penalty trouble late in the second period led to another power-play goal, the Jr. Coyotes were down 3-1. Sent to a power play of their own, Tristen Wilson-Azleton made it a 3-2 game at 13:39 of the third. Shortly thereafter, Carson McGinley would snap home his first goal of the game, tying things at 3. Jacob Solano got in on the scoring with a goal of his own at 8:50, and with just 57 seconds left McGinley found the empty net for his second goal. Four unanswered goals in the third period stunned the Selects and gave the Jr. Coyotes a huge confidence boost heading into the remainder of pool play.

Pens Elite score twice in 23 seconds to stun Mid-Fairfield

Peter Rossi, on-site at 15O Nationals

15O USA Hockey Nationals kicked off today in Wayne, New Jersey. 2007-born Pittsburgh Penguins Elite and Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers played their opening game of the tournament against one another, with Pittsburgh snagging a win in dramatic fashion. It was the fifth contest of the season between the two, with Pens Elite leading the series 3-1. 

Justin Vlassis opened the scoring by putting home a rebound from in front of the net. The two clubs would continue to trade chances , with the Pens Elite getting the better looks as the period went on. Ethan Chen would tie the game at 1 in the second period when he finished a perfect backdoor feed from Michael Mardula on the power play. 

Entering the third period tied 1-1, the teams continued to play a fairly even frame, with chances exchanged on both ends. With 1:47 left in regulation, Murdula gave the Jr. Rangers a 2-1 lead when he banged home a feed from Chen. Just 35 seconds after that, Quinn McKenzie tied the game by finishing a pass from Vlassis off a quick rush up the ice. 23 seconds later, Vlassis notched his second goal to put Pens Elite up 3-2 when he deflected a puck past Steven Luciano from the top of the crease. Kieren Dervin put the game away with an empty-net goal for the 4-2 final. 

A large majority of the game featured a goaltending duel between Luciano for Mid-Fairfield and Giulio Torriero for Pittsburgh. Luciano was the busier of the two in the first period, making 13 saves. The script flipped for the second period, where Torriero faced a lot of pucks. Overall, Luciano ended up with 27 saves, while Torriero collected 16. 

Little Caesars opens with statement win over North Dakota

Little Caesars once again proved they are one of the premier teams of their birth year with a 8-0 win against Team North Dakota. Evan Jardine (3G, 4A), Zachary Morin (2G, 5A) and William Horcoff (3G, 3A) carried out the heavy lifting on offense. While not the busiest goalie of the day, Sammy DiBlasi gobbled up all 15 shots he saw for the shutout. 

With Day 1’s results, it seems to be a two-team race to escape a packed USA Group. Caesars and Pens Elite control their destinies with opening-game victories. The Jr. Rangers now face a must-win scenario in their next matchup against North Dakota tomorrow. I still think the championship is Caesars to lose, but it will be interesting to see if any of the other premier teams can build confidence as the games continue.

Jr. Kings Avoid Upset in opening game of the 14U tournament

Craig Peterson, on-site at 14U Nationals
The 2008 Los Angeles Jr. Kings avoided a near upset on the first day of action at USA Hockey Nationals. Pre-tournament, I had them as one of the early favorites to finish as a top seed in group play. However, a bit of a sluggish start and an aggressive opponent in Team Wisconsin pushed the Jr. Kings up against the ropes in Game 1.

Four unanswered goals in a four-minute stretch of the second period put Team Wisconsin comfortably in the driver’s seat. Through 34 minutes of game action, TW controlled much of the game with an aggressive forecheck and relentless attack that kept the more skilled Jr. Kings on their heels. Wisconsin forwards like Cooper DePuydt and Owen Porter used their speed to chase down loose pucks and pressure LA defensemen throughout the attacking zone. 

Additionally, a pair of LA penalties proved to be costly, as DePuydt and Logan Ostricki cashed in on back-to-back power-play opportunities. Team Wisconsin carried a 4-2 lead into the third period, with the more skilled Jr. Kings looking a bit lethargic and out of rhythm.

Stretch passes through the neutral zone missed their mark, drop passes on the rush were left for no one and multiple puck battles lost to the harder working Wisconsin club. It wasn’t until the 9:39 mark of the third when Jake Brown gave the Jr. Kings a jolt, cutting the deficit to 4-3. LA looked to be a different team after that, earning a power-play opportunity. While they didn’t cash in, it wasn’t long after the penalty expired that top forward Tyus Sparks scored his second goal of the game, off a rebound initially from Michael Block

Alofa Tunoa Ta’Amu led a late rush up the ice and sent a centering pass to Logan Stuart driving the net. Stuart’s redirection of the pass fooled TW goaltender Julian Scalcucci just enough that it found its way into the back of the net, 5-4 Jr. Kings with under a minute to go in regulation. An empty-net goal late would put the finishing touches on the game as LA scored four unanswered goals of its own to come back and earn a win in Game 1 at USA Hockey Nationals.

Gritty 4-Team Group in 14U Liberty Division

Team Wisconsin put a scare into the Jr. Kings with a gritty style of play that made it tough to find time and space. Their next two opponents will do more of the same this week as well. 

Mount St. Charles defeated the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies 3-2 in overtime, thanks to a goal by Jameson Glance. However, both of these teams could piece together similar performances to that of TW and upset the favored Jr. Kings later this week. I didn’t consider either Mount or OJG much of a threat to LA pre-tournament. However, strong showings this morning showed that both clubs are extremely well coached, disciplined and hard-working. A formula that we just saw the Jr. Kings struggle with a bit against Wisconsin. 

The Jr. Kings are still the favorite in my mind, but the road looks a little less convenient after today. 

The second team to come out of this pool will be an interesting battle. Mount, obviously, is in the most fortuitous spot with a two-game lead on OJG and one game on TW. However, this trio is reminiscent of the Spider-Man meme, pointing at one another. Their playing styles are all eerily similar, and the 3-2 overtime decision between Mount and OJG certainly validates that. Mount meets Wisconsin Thursday afternoon, and that game will likely determine who the second team is to come out of the Liberty Division. I expect it to be a very close, well structured, back-and-forth game. The scales lean ever so slightly towards TW for me, but it’ll be an interesting matchup nonetheless.

WHH will have continued coverage of USA Hockey Nationals this week. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Discord and YouTube for the latest news, top performers and more.


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