Shock and awe during the semifinals of the 15O USA Hockey Nationals Tournament
Peter Rossi, on-site at 15O Nationals
Despite it being a chilly and windy morning in Wayne, New Jersey, the 15O semifinal matchups inside the Ice Vault were heating up. First up, top-seeded Little Caesars was set to take on No. 3-seed Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Next, the afternoon would wrap up with a contest between No. 5-seed Los Angeles Jr. Kings and No. 8-seed Pittsburgh Penguins Elite.
Graham Jones sends Shattuck to championship game with clutch OT winner
While many had picked Little Caesars to be the team victorious at this year’s 15O tournament, someone forgot to tell that to Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Realizing the opportunity before them, SSM took to the ice against a team who had dominated opponents since Nationals began. It seemed as if that would be the case yet again when Easton Pace opened the scoring when he managed to shoot the puck past a diving Garrett Glaser while falling.
Caesars would then fall into some penalty trouble, which Shattuck made sure to take advantage of. Gavin Kor tied the game when he finished off tic-tac-toe passing between Aaron Obobaifo and Joseph Gugino. Sent back to the power play shortly after that goal, Caden Lindsay was able to bang in a pass from Chase Nehring to put Shattuck up 2-1 just 44 seconds after the game was tied. SSM was able to take advantage of extended zone time, mainly by outworking Caesars in getting to loose pucks and winning board battles.
Just when it seemed Shattuck would take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission, Aiden Janz made his presence known. Rocketing through the neutral zone, he split two defenders and beat Glaser’s right pad to even the score with 22 seconds left on the clock.
Caesars got its lead back in the second period when Clark Nehmens coughed the puck up to Janz, who quickly began a 2-on-1 rush in the other direction with Pace. After a short give-and-go between the two, Pace finished off the play for his second goal and to put his team up 3-2.
Been super impressed with @HockeyCaesars forward Easton Pace (#27 White) all week at #USAHNationals, but this interception & give-and-go with fellow standout Aiden Janz is the highlight I’ve been waiting for. pic.twitter.com/ZgNWDt31JO— Brayden Olafson (@olaf1393) April 2, 2023
But once again back on the power play, Kor tallied his second goal with a blast off a perfect feed from Gavin Katz, tying things up at 3.
Both teams find the back of the net in the second here at 15O @usahockey Nationals. Another goal for Gavin Kor for Shattuck, this time on the power play. 3-3 entering the third period! #USAHNationals pic.twitter.com/JBvddLNjjg— World Hockey Hub (@WorldHkyHub) April 2, 2023
Despite an evenly played third period, it seemed as if destiny was on Caesars’ side when Nehmens was called for hooking with just 17 seconds remaining in regulation. Unable to score, the contest would require overtime, where Caesars would have 1:43 remaining on the power play to find the winner.
The penalty kill for Shattuck came up huge in the opening moments of the extra frame. With tired Caesars skaters unable to change, Graham Jones ripped a shot on net that bounced off the pipe and in for the game-winning goal. SSM players poured off the bench and mobbed Glaser in celebration.
Finishing with two goals and an assist, Kor now sits in third in total points at 15O Nationals, with three goals and 12 points.
Kevan’s hat trick boosts Jr. Kings over Pens Elite
Not even a day removed from scoring the overtime winner to get past Mount. St. Charles in the quarterfinal round, Benjamin Kevan once again was the star for the Los Angeles Jr. Kings. Collecting four points, including three goals, Kevan led his team over a tough Pittsburgh Penguins Elite squad. He now is tied with William Horcoff of Little Caesars for first in overall scoring with 13 points.
The game opened with a flair for the dramatic when the Jr. Kings believed they had gotten the first goal. After initially being called a good goal, after a short conference the officials reversed the call to no goal. Still sending wave after wave of players into Pittsburgh’s zone, Los Angeles was finally rewarded for its efforts with a power play. Luke Norcross fired a pass through the crease that found the stick of Kevan, who slid it in for a 1-0 lead.
Continuing to struggle to find any offensive zone time, Pens Elite did not register a shot on goal until 4:45 left remaining in the period. With 3:14 remaining, Caden Campion doubled the lead when he deposited a pass from Kevan into the net. Overall, the Jr. Kings outshot Pittsburgh 8-2 in the first period.
Trying to cut into the deficit on a power play of their own, PPE got mixed up on a passing play in the neutral zone, resulting in Kevan knocking a puck loose. He skated in on a breakaway and after a few deft dekes, chipped the puck over the pad of Giulio Torriero for a commanding 3-0 lead. 23 seconds after, Kieren Dervin would finally cash in for the Pens to cut the lead to 3-1.
Jacob Cloutier would bring it to a one-goal game when he fired a clean wrist shot from in front into the net. The line of Dervin, Cloutier and Quinn McKenzie once again came in clutch. From that point on, it was all Pittsburgh as they threw everything on net in an attempt to tie the game. With the Jr. Kings on their heels, Hayden Russell forced a turnover at PPE’s blue line, pushed his way to the front of the net and beat Torriero for a crucial insurance goal. Kevan would net his third goal when he found the empty-net, securing the 5-2 win.
Shattuck eager to be on the right side of the win column in championship game
Just one year ago, Shattuck found themselves in a similar position. They were in the championship game at 15O USAH Nationals, only to be bested by Chicago Mission. With confidence at an all-time high, the club is eager to finally earn some hardware that has eluded the program at this division.
If there is one thing both teams remaining have in common, it’s that they both are playing their best hockey of the year at exactly the right time. Both have a top player in total points, goaltending has been a strength, and special teams have been firing on all cylinders.
My prediction: This one is almost too close to call. Both teams have put together solid wins the past two days, with Shattuck taking down an absolute behemoth in Caesars. While goaltending has been solid for each squad, this may just come down to who manages to put more pucks in the net. I’m very excited to see Benjamin Kevan and Gavin Kor go head-to-head when a championship is on the line. Given the fact with how evenly they looked with Caesars in the semifinal battle, I think SSM gets the edge for the win here.
A tale of chalk and chaos at the 14U USA Hockey Nationals Tournament
Craig Peterson, on-site at 14U Nationals
Semifinal action at the 14U USA Hockey Nationals got underway with No. 7-seed Bishop Kearney and No. 11-seed Boston Jr. Eagles. They were followed by No. 2 Chicago Mission and No. 3 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite facing off on the other half of the bracket.
The tournament has delivered a little bit of everything in terms of chalk — with the top seeds winning out — as well as chaos, where upsets and underdogs stole the show.
Cinderellas clash in 14U semifinal; Gavin Weeks keeps BK’s hopes alive
On one half of the bracket, top-seeded Pens Elite and Chicago Mission delivered. Their semifinal matchup set the stage for two heavyweights to collide. The other half of the bracket was wild, to say the least. Bishop Kearney stunned top-seeded Shattuck-St. Mary’s in overtime, thanks to a power-play goal from Dain Gordon. It was the first time since December 3rd that Shattuck had suffered defeat, snapping a 24-game win streak.
Additionally, the Jr. Eagles jumped out to a 2-0 lead on No. 4-seed Los Angeles Jr. Kings. While the Jr. Kings had come back from a deficit twice already in this tournament, Boston made sure there wouldn’t be a third. They out-shot, out-worked and out-disciplined the heavily-favored Jr. Kings and advanced to a semifinal matchup between two Cinderellas.
In the first semifinal, both the Jr. Eagles and BK Selects delivered their best performances of the tournament. Much of the game felt like a mental chess match as both ends traded scoring opportunities, power plays and plenty of zone time.
Lance Toland broke the 0-0 tie three minutes into the second period, as he put the Jr. Eagles on top with a power-play goal. BK was quick to respond, though, as its leading scorer, Camden Nimmer snapped off a wrist shot from the blue line to make it 1-1 just a minute and five seconds later.
With both teams on the board, the strategery resumed, as they played 15 more minutes of scoreless hockey. Then, in the third period, Dain Gordon cashed in on Bishop Kearney’s fourth power-play opportunity of the game to give them a 2-1 lead. Austin Brekelmans added a wrist-shot goal a few minutes later and BK had a stranglehold on the scoreboard.
An empty-net goal would make it a 4-1 final, and the Jr. Eagles’ run would come to an end.
Despite the loss, they out-shot BK 23-17 but did not have an answer for Gavin Weeks in net. The backbone of Bishop Kearney’s run thus far has been the stellar play of Weeks between the pipes. He’s played all 249 minutes of game action at USA Hockey Nationals. In that span, Weeks is 4-1-0 with a 1.17 goals-against average and .948 save percentage.
Zajic, Gordon-Carroll take over in 14U battle of top seeds
The Chicago Mission and Pittsburgh Penguins Elite clashed in the second semifinal on Sunday. With Shattuck-St. Mary’s eliminated, Mission and PPE were the two highest remaining seeds in the tournament. By the end of the afternoon, only one of them would move on to the championship.
Fortunately for Mission, their top performers continued to shine as the stage of the tournament got bigger.
Lukas Zajic — the team’s leading scorer — struck back-to-back times in the first period, just over three minutes apart. That pair of goals put Chicago up 2-1 and in the driver’s seat for the first time. From there, power forward Shaeffer Gordon-Carroll scored a pair of his own to end the first period and open the second period. That furthered Mission’s lead to 5-2 with just over half the game left to play.
Despite maintaining a 6-3 lead through two periods, Mission was being out-shot and out-possessed for long stretches by Pens Elite. At one point, PPE held a 21-14 advantage in shots. However, Mission’s Jake Windbiel was up to the task.
While PPE managed to produce offense — three goals through the halfway point of the game — much of their success came on second- and third-chance opportunities. Listed at 6-foot-4, Windbiel is the biggest goaltender in the tournament. His combination of size and mobility left talented attackers like Alexander McLean, Brody George and Kase Kamzik stifled. Pittsburgh generated plenty of quality looks but were unable to challenge Windbiel from distance.
The struggles continued into the third period, and time became PPE’s biggest enemy. With 3:23 left in regulation, Carson Lindberg capitalized on a blue-line turnover and snapped a shot past Windbiel to make the deficit 6-4. It was too little, too late though, as Aurelio Garcia would score an empty-net goal just moments later that sealed each team’s fate.
Mission was on to the championship with Bishop Kearney. PPE, on the other hand, was heading home for the final time this season.
14U Championship set between Bishop Kearney and Chicago Mission
The Cinderella story in Bishop Kearney collides with the powerhouse favorite in Chicago Mission for the 14U USA Hockey national championship. The battle for supremacy in the 2008 birth year comes down to Chicago’s Shaeffer Gordon-Carroll, Lukas Zajic and Kalder Varga on one end. BK counters with Camden Nimmer, Rudolfs Berzkalns and Nolan Duskocy. Though, the ultimate difference-makers in this matchup reside between the pipes. Gavin Weeks has been arguably the best goaltender in the tournament. His counterpart in Jake Windbiel will be a big riddle for BK’s offense to solve.
This has the makings of a low-scoring, grind-em-out kind of game. Mission’s high-powered offense may run into a 5-foot-10 wall in Weeks, who has the best save percentage and lowest goals against in Plymouth. Meanwhile, BK’s scrappy style of play shouldn’t produce a wealth of offense against the towering Windbiel either. I think a low-scoring affair favors Bishop Kearney, who just might complete their Cinderella run with a 14U national championship.
My prediction: A huge performance from their goaltender in net paired with a couple timely, greasy goals leads to a 3-2 win for BK.