Qualifiers Complete for USAH Nationals

Mar 14, 2023 | World Hockey Hub

2008-born U.S. youth hockey team Valley Forge Minutemen celebrate winning the Atlantic District, earning them a spot at USAH Nationals.
Photo from Instagram | @minutemen08

Final eight districts crown 14U, 15O, 16U, 18U champions

Last week, eight of USA Hockey’s 12 districts held their respective state tournaments and final qualifier games. This is a crucial step for teams looking to earn automatic bids to compete at the 2023 USA Hockey Nationals. 

The final eight automatic bids at each of the four age levels were decided by various tournament structures across the country.  Those winners will join a field of 16 teams later this month in pursuit of a national championship. 

14U District Qualifiers

Central District: No. 14 Chicago Mission and Team Wisconsin met in the championship game after each going 2-0-0 in the preliminary games. Wisconsin held the high-flying offense of Chicago in check to snag a 4-2 victory. 

New England District: No. 6 Mount St. Charles defeated Hartford Jr. Wolfpack 4-1. 

New York District: No. 23 Bishop Kearney Selects team depth was on display in their 4-0 semifinal win against the Buffalo Jr. Sabres. Four different players found the back of the net and goaltender Gavin Weeks was perfect in recording 21 saves. In the championship game, multi-point performances from Luca Cannata, Camden Nimmer and Rocco Afonso led BK Selects to a 6-2 win against CP Dynamo. Weeks was stellar in net once again, stopping 24 shots. 

Rocky Mountain District: No. 19 Dallas Stars Elite got the best of the Rocky Mountain RoughRiders in their rematch, defeating them 7-1. In their earlier meeting at qualifiers, Stars Elite put up eight goals, with Jeffrey Hurlbert (3G) and Booker Toninato (2G) leading the charge. 

Southeastern District: It wasn’t an easy road for the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes, but they showed up in the big moments to grab the district championship over Florida Alliance. Both the Jr. Hurricanes and Alliance went 2-1-0 in the preliminary round. The Jr. Canes fell to the Washington Little Capitals, 5-3, before rebounding with a 3-2 victory in the title matchup to earn the trip to Nationals. 

Atlantic District: The Valley Forge Minutemen and New Jersey Rockets threw down in a best-of-three series to decide who would represent the Atlantic among ‘08 teams. After the Rockets opened the series with a 3-1 win, the Minutemen would respond with a 1-0 shutout in game 2. That momentum would carry into the deciding game, where they edged the Rockets in a 4-2 final.

Michigan District: With the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies and Little Caesars deadlocked at 2 goals apiece, Joseph Zelenak cued up the heroics. With 11:20 left in the third period, Zelenak tallied the go-ahead goal and eventual game-winner to lift the Jr. Grizzlies to the win. Braden Guolla scored the other two goals for the Jr. Grizzlies, and James Fawaz stopped 18 shots. 

Northern Plains District: Team North Dakota prevailed in its championship game, earning a trip to Nationals. 

The eight district champions above will join the Boston Jr. Eagles, Pittsburgh Vengeance, Shattuck-St. Mary’s and Los Angeles Jr. Kings as automatic qualifiers for USAH Nationals in Plymouth, Michigan.

15O District Qualifiers

Central District: No. 16 Chicago Mission got the better of Team Wisconsin for a 4-2 victory to garner a spot at USA Nationals. 

New England District: It was a clash of two U.S. Top-10 clubs for the New England District crown. No. 6 Mount St. Charles and No. 9 Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers are no strangers to each other. Squaring off five times in the regular season, Mid-Fairfield got the better of Mount with a 3-2-0 record. Yet, Mount St. Charles got the last laugh and prevailed in the district championship, 4-2. 

New York District: Ethan Wyttenbach picked up where he left off after collecting four points in a 8-0 semifinal victory against the PAL Jr. Islanders. Wyttenbach, along with Nathaniel Poole, helped No. 20 Long Island Gulls jump out to a 2-0 lead versus No. 4 Bishop Kearney Selects in the championship tilt. Konner Powell cut into the lead in the second period, but the Gulls’ defense and Ryan Cameron’s 26 saves allowed them to hold onto the 2-1 lead.

Rocky Mountain District: For this district, it was another rematch in the championship game, this time between the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes and Dallas Stars Elite. In the first battle, the Jr. Coyotes earned a 2-1 shootout victory, with Ethan Bryant netting the game-winning goal. He also scored during regulation play, with Blake Patterson putting up the only Dallas goal. The Stars Elite rebounded to win the matchup that mattered most, scoring three consecutive goals after falling behind 1-0 in the opening frame. Brady Turner made things interesting when he cut the lead to 3-2 with a power-play goal early into the third frame. Patterson sealed the deal with an empty-net goal with 1:20 left and sent Dallas through to Nationals. 

Southeastern District: Florida Alliance North exploded for six goals in a preliminary round meeting against the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes. With the two facing off in the championship, many expected it to be more of the same. However, the Jr. Hurricanes would flip the script and bounce back with a 7-1 win of their own. 

Atlantic District: It was a Garden State showdown between the North Jersey Avalanche and New Jersey Rockets to see who would move on to Nationals. After opening the three-game series with a 6-3 win, the Rockets seemed ready to end with a sweep. The Avalanche had other plans, forcing a third and decisive game after taking Game 2, 5-2. The Rockets would rebound in the winner-take-all clash, edging the Avalanche 4-3 with a late-game stunner. 

Michigan District: William Horcoff led No. 1 Little Caesars to a 4-0 shutout win against Fox Motors with two goals. While not the busiest night between the pipes, Joseph Slavick was perfect with 14 saves. 

Northern Plains District: Team North Dakota kicked off its three-game series against the Sioux Falls Power in dramatic fashion. With the score locked at two late in regulation, Isaac Thompson slipped a power-play goal home with seven seconds left on the clock to steal a 3-2 win for North Dakota. Sioux Falls would take Game 2, 4-2 but North Dakota would rally for the Game 3 win. 

The eight district champions above will join the Neponset Valley River Rats, Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, Shattuck-St. Mary’s and Los Angeles Jr. Kings as automatic qualifiers for USAH Nationals in Wayne, New Jersey.

16U District Qualifiers

Central District: Chicago Mission bested Team Wisconsin in a low-scoring 1-0 affair. 

New England District: After Ronnie Hill increased Seacoast Performance Academy’s lead to 4-2 in the championship game with nine minutes to play, things were looking good. However, their opponent No. 20 Mount St. Charles had other plans. Clawing its way back to even the score, Mount St. Charles forced overtime with a spot to Nationals on the line. With the extra frame underway, Deke Davidson blasted a one-timer into the net, securing the win for SPA and sending their bench into a frenzy of flying gloves and sticks. 

New York District: Thomas Zocco and Grant Young did most of the heavy lifting on offense, each tallying two goals to help lift No. 3 Long Island Gulls past the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, 5-1. The Jr. Sabres threw their fair share of rubber on net, but they were bested by Ryan Denes, who finished with 31 saves. 

Rocky Mountain District: The Phoenix Jr. Coyotes won their preliminary-round game versus the Rocky Mountain RoughRiders, 4-0. Benjamin Vatis made 25 saves to earn the shutout and four different players scored. In the rematch, the Jr. Coyotes won the title tilt by a 4-1 margin, collecting all four goals unanswered in the third period. Carson McGinley put the game away with two empty-net goals.

Southeastern District: Following a 3-1 preliminary round defeat, Florida Alliance had hoped to dish out some revenge in the championship game against the Nashville Jr. Predators. But the Jr. Preds would prevent any chance at that, ending up in the win column yet again with a 5-1 final. 

Atlantic District: No. 12 North Jersey Avalanche took care of their business in a timely manner, sweeping the New York Saints in their best-of-three series. The Avs outscored the Saints 13-2, securing a shutout in Game 1. 

Michigan District: Brecken Smith‘s first-period goal and Owen Lepak’s 19 saves would be all No. 13 Little Caesars would need in a 1-0 win over HoneyBaked.  

Northern Plains District: Despite the best efforts of Sioux Falls, Team North Dakota was victorious in the first two games of its three-game series. After Grant Gardner secured the Game 1 win in overtime, it appeared as if Game 2 was headed to extra time as well. Just as it seemed as if Gardner had played hero once more, scoring a power-play goal with 42 seconds left to play, the goal would be called back after a review. Not phased, Gardner would indeed strike in overtime again for North Dakota, sending them to Nationals.  

The eight district champions above will join the Boston Little Bruins, Cleveland Barons, Shattuck-St. Mary’s and Anaheim Jr. Ducks as automatic qualifiers for USAH Nationals in San Jose, California.

18U District Qualifiers

The 18U slate of games will begin March 29th in San Jose, California. These teams will join the Boston Jr. Eagles, Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Anaheim Jr. Ducks, and Culver Academy as the representatives of their districts. 

Central District: Omaha Mastery

New England District: Yale Jr. Bulldogs

New York District: Buffalo Regals

Rocky Mountain District: Colorado Rampage

Southeastern District: Florida Alliance

Atlantic District: Philadelphia Jr. Flyers

Michigan District: Little Caesars

Northern Plains District: Sioux Falls Power

2023 USA Hockey Nationals will begin March 29th. WHH will have continued coverage of each birth year throughout the schedule of games. 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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