Posted April 27th, 2021
Favorites, Sleepers and Predictions for USA Hockey Nationals
This is it. An entire season of training, practice, competition and development culminates this week with 16 teams in pursuit of a national championship. We key in on three primary age groups at the Tier-I level, with the 16U, 15O and 14U brackets. A quest that began more than eight months ago in the midst of one of the most unusual youth hockey seasons on record, comes to a head over the next six days.
With representatives from across the United States, only one will earn the right to end their season with a win, and the title of national champion. Each age group is broken down into four pools of four teams that will compete in-pool, round-robin style. After that, the top two teams from each pool advance to a single-elimination bracket that will ultimately decide a champ. We offer up one favorite capable of not just winning its pool, but also the whole thing. Likewise, one unsuspecting sleeper that can make a legit push to win the 2021 national title as well.
TIER-I 16U Division
FAVORITE: Shattuck-St. Mary’s
One of the top teams in the world all season long — currently No. 2 in our latest rankings — Shattuck is headlined by a dynamic group of forwards up front. Anthony Yu leads the team in scoring with 22 goals and 59 points in 44 games, and 2005-birth year Edmonton native Gracyn Sawchyn is second with 58 points. With a 35-4-5 record, Shattuck is the top-seeded team in the USA Pool and has only been defeated twice since the New Year. They can out-score opponents getting up and down the ice in an 8-6 track meet, or clog up the middle, limit shots and claw out a low-scoring 2-1 naitbiter.
SLEEPER: Seacoast Performance Academy
All gas, no brakes. When the Spartans are on, they are difficult for anyone to keep up with. Putting the pedal to the metal can have consequences too though, as SPA needed an at-large bid to qualify for the tournament after crashing and burning in Districts. They’ve played 10 of the 15 other teams in the national tournament field and beaten nine of them. Seacoast has proven they can not just compete with, but beat the best teams in the field. The question is, can they do it consistently on the game’s biggest stage?
FAVORITE: North Jersey Avalanche
The number one team in the world according to our latest rankings. The Avs boast a 16-6-1 record against fellow national-bound teams. Canadian import forward Nicholas Moldenhauer scored 15 goals and 33 points in 13 Atlantic Youth Hockey League (AYHL) games this season according to Elite Prospects. Aside from a well-balanced offense, North Jersey is tough to score on. The Atlantic District champion has allowed zero, one or two goals against 39 times this season, allowing three-or-more goals just once in its last 18 games.
SLEEPER: Fox Motors
Earlier in the season, Fox thoroughly handled fellow Olympic Pool members Colorado Thunderbirds (5-0) and Nashville Jr. Predators (5-0). They should be considered the favorite in every round-robin game with the exception of the Avalanche mentioned above, and if they can survive pool play, Fox will present a difficult challenge for anyone in the Quarterfinals and beyond. This is a group that went 16-1-0 in October and November, and if guys like Cole Knuble get a sniff of confidence in pool play, opponents will be on upset alert in Missouri.
FAVORITE: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite
They started the season on a 14-1-0 run and finished 8-2-0, claiming an automatic bid by winning the Mid-American District. The Pens have been one of the hottest 2004-born teams all season long and have 12 wins in 19 games against fellow national-bound teams. While North Jersey ranks ahead of them, PPE maintains a 2-1-1 head-to-head record this season. After pool play, the Pens could certainly be considered the favorite in single-elimination action, having already beaten most of the teams they could see at that stage.
SLEEPER: Northeast Wisconsin Jr. Gamblers
“WhAt AbOuT HoNeYbAkEd?!” The boys from Detroit are hardly a ‘sleeper’ as a Top-5 team in the country with a fistful of D-I commits. The Junior Gamblers, however, are your prototypical, fly-under-the-radar, upset city pick. Despite being one of the lowest ranked teams among the 16 in the tournament, they’ve played some of the favorites extremely tough, including HoneyBaked, taking them to overtime once and then a 5-5 tie last month. They were also one of just four teams this season to defeat Shattuck outright. Don’t bet your mortgage on NEW, but it would make for an interesting futures pick with great odds.
FAVORITE: Bishop Kearney Selects
What a fantastic story in year one of the program for Bishop Kearney, qualifying for Nationals at the 16U and 14U age groups. Nobody is satisfied with just making it to the party, though, and BK should be considered an outside favorite to win the whole thing in its rookie campaign. Pool play could be a little scary, being that they’ve only played one game total this season against their three opponents; a 4-3 overtime loss to Mount St. Charles. Whatever they lack in familiarity, BK makes up for it with a well-rounded and balanced attack with Ryan Conmy, Michael Kadlecik and Tyler Stern at the forefront.
SLEEPER: Oakland Jr. Grizzlies
The Michigan District champion after upsetting HoneyBaked in the semifinals and Fox in the championship; OJG has been playing playoff-style, desperation hockey for a few weeks now. Nothing is scarier than a hot team, and the Grizzlies wouldn’t be here if not for that survive-and-advance mentality. A ‘From the First Four to the Final Four’ type of group you see in March Madness. Nine different scorers have produced double-digit goals according to Elite Prospects, and Travis Bryson leads the way with 30 in 46 games.
TIER-I 15O Division
FAVORITE: Chicago Mission
The No. 2 team in the world according to our latest rankings, Mission headlines a 2005-born age group where the margin between teams is razor thin. The 15s are a volatile age group, which should make for some very exciting and unpredictable hockey. Mission has wins over No. 2 HoneyBaked, No. 3 Compuware, No. 4 Mid-Fairfield and No. 5 Shattuck, all coming after the New Year. They also have losses to three of those four teams in that same period of time, but expect Chicago to thrive in pool play and make a strong push at the title by Monday.
SLEEPER: Buffalo Jr. Sabres
The Sabres qualified after winning the New York District championship, and have only played eight games against national bound teams. Their record in those games is just 4-4, with all four victories coming against PPE. Expect the Sabres to top Sioux Falls in pool play, and then all it will take is an upset over Shattuck or Chicago to advance Buffalo to the elimination rounds. Can Cooper Rautenstrauch be good enough in net to steal one for the Sabres?
FAVORITE: Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers
Of the favorites in the field, none are hotter right now than MFJR. A shootout win over No. 10 Mount St. Charles punched their ticket to nationals. Their top is as good as anyone in the field with forwards Ryan Fine, Sal Guzzo and Brian Nicholas, as well as defensemen Drew Fortescue, Aram Minnetian and Lucas St. Louis. The NJ Avs are the only team that should put up any resistance in pool play, and that’s because the two teams split a four-game series in the regular season. A hot team with a favorable draw is a recipe for a playoff run.
SLEEPER: North Jersey Avalanche
These two teams feel like locks for the Quarterfinals when looking at the Olympic Pool teams and their respective bodies of work. Certainly, Team Alaska or Team Wisconsin could play spoiler, but it seems like an outlier of an outcome. Should the Avs survive and advance, they do have a history of playing top teams extremely close, including a 2-1 loss to No. 1 Chicago Mission and a 6-5 overtime loss to No. 4 MFJR. Brady Silverman and Pasha Baranchik would have to find a way to get North Jersey over the hump and win those close games, though.
Nobody’s won more games against tougher competition than HoneyBaked with 42 in 59 regular-season games. They’re battle tested too, with one-third of those games against fellow national bound teams. Forward Charlie Cerrato, defenseman Zach Schulz and goaltender Trey Augustine were all invited to the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) Evaluation Camp next month, according to the New England Hockey Journal. All three are considered top players at the position and have the potential to carry HB to a title.
SLEEPER: Mount St. Charles
Every name in the NHL Pool could make a case to advance to the elimination rounds. It’s a tough quartet of teams. Mount St. Charles tied HoneyBaked 2-2 in February, and then tied PPE 2-2 a month later. Ties ain’t gonna fly this time around though, and something’s got to give in pool play. Good offensive depth up front should give Mount enough ammunition to outlast at least two of the three teams it’ll see early on. Can forwards Tanner Adams and Christian Venticinque be the straws that stir the drink on a brack-busting run?
The one team that poses a threat to Compuware in this group-of-four is an opponent that they’ve already beaten five times this season. Compuware and CYA played six times in the span of six weeks, and then a final matchup in February, so the odds of this Michigan-based program advancing to the bracket of eight are pretty high. After that though, it could get dicey, with only an 8-8-1 record against out-of-pool opponents. Forwards Michael Burchill, Josh Diegel and Thomas Neu will have to provide a jump up front and create offense.
SLEEPER: Chicago Young Americans
Jeff Cox called CYA’s defensive corps the best top four in all of hockey in the 2005 age group. Andrew Strathmann and Daniel Johnson are damn near point-per-game guys through a 57-game schedule, and Jack Gricus and Aiden Shirey combine to add 69 more points from the back end this season. The offensive output is next level, but both Compuware and Dallas Stars Elite have scored six goals in a game on CYA, and that’s just in-pool opponents. Shattuck and Florida Alliance have also exposed Chicago at times this season. They’ll be in the hunt, but there’s a slight pause for concern when it gets to elimination rounds.
TIER-I 14U Division
FAVORITE: Shattuck-St. Mary’s
Pound-for-pound, may be the best youth hockey team in all of hockey this season. Ranked No. 1 in the world among ‘06 teams with a record of 41-1-2; the lone blemish being an 8-5 offensive outpouring from the Minnesota Blades back on September 25th. Shattuck quickly avenged that loss 48 hours later with a 4-2 win. Fueled by some of the biggest names in the age group, Cole Eiserman, Mack Celebrini and Aidan Park have all eclipsed the 100-point mark in just 42 games. The Sabres are on an 18-game win streak that could very easily continue through the duration of the national tournament.
SLEEPER: New Jersey Colonials
Shattuck should sit atop this pool, but the second spot to advance is certainly up for grabs. The AAA Blues and New Jersey Colonials met just once before, with St. Louis coming out on top 3-1 back in October. Will the rematch be more of the same or will NJ show that it’s much improved from six months ago? The Blues don’t have a game on record in a month, with their last contest being an 8-0 decision on March 28th. That long layoff puts a lot of pressure on the opening game of the tournament. Colonials win on Wednesday which will ultimately cement their place as the second team from the USA Pool.
FAVORITE: Bishop Kearney Selects
It’s Shattuck, and then everyone else at the 14U level. But if there’s one team that can give the Sabres a run, it’s upstart BK. Ranked third in the world, Bishop Kearney has some of the big names that can go toe-to-toe with anybody in America. Pittsburgh native Christian Humphreys has 126 points this season, with fantastic secondary contributors like Will Shields, Geno Carcone and Nate Delladonna. Pool play will be a challenge, but BK could shine in the elimination rounds and get to the title game.
SLEEPER: Chicago Mission
They’ve got one of the lowest goal differentials among national bound teams and a less than overwhelming 20-11-1 record. Mission has played top teams Shattuck three times, Bishop Kearney once and Northeast Wisconsin five times, though, so they’re very much battle tested. The only problem is their record is 1-7-1 in those games. So do you value the input or the output? On one hand, there’s no surprises because Chicago has seen and competed with the top teams. On the other hand, they haven’t fared well against the best of the best. Don’t rule ‘em out just yet if they can earn a seat at the final table.
FAVORITE: Boston Jr. Eagles
Compiled the best start in hockey this season with an 18-1-1 record out of the gate. The Junior Eagles cooled off a bit as the calendar wore on though, finishing the regular season just 5-2-5 down the stretch. Boston will have to get right in a hurry, as it faces arguably the toughest pool of the four at the 14U level. With Teddy Stiga and Jack Sadowski up front and Owen Keefe on the back end, the Junior Eagles have plenty of weapons at their disposal to compete with top teams. The challenge will be execution and bringing the team’s A-game to Dallas, Texas.
SLEEPER: Los Angeles Jr. Kings
This is one sleeper who could very easily end up being the top team in its pool. The Junior Kings are among the best in the age group, have some top talent and are white hot right now with an 11-0-2 record in their last 13 games. The bulk of those games have come against less than stellar opponents but LA has fared okay in limited action versus top teams. They tied the aforementioned Junior Eagles 2-2 in February, beat Northeast Wisconsin 3-2 in October and hung in a 4-2 game with top-ranked Shattuck. Colin Frank is a top forward in the country with 69 points this season and defenseman Tyler Chiovetti leads the team with 71 points from the back end.
FAVORITE: Mount St. Charles
One-of-four programs with a team at each of the 16U, 15O and 14U age groups. The Mount St. Charles ‘06 squad has one of the more unique resumes in all of USA Hockey Nationals. With 23 games played, it’s the fewest among national bound teams. Only four of those contests have been against fellow national teams, with a 2-2-0 record. It’s a limited body of work. However, forward James Hagens is exceptional, and a supporting cast of Jackson Delleo, Joseph Monteiro, Kolin Sisson and Tyler Wood can create matchup problems for anyone.
SLEEPER: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite
“No LoVe FoR N-E-W?!” MyHockeyRankings has them as the top-ranked team in the pool, so they’re hardly considered a sleeper. Pens Elite, on the other hand, are 12th out of 16 and could manage to squeeze their way into the elimination rounds. Here’s how: They beat the NJ Avs for the second time this season and steal a win from either Mount or Northeast Wisconsin. Pittsburgh doesn’t score a ton of goals, but they’ve also only been shut out twice in 36 games. They live in that three-to-four goal range that gives opponents trouble and Jack Rosensteel is the real deal.