Jr. Kings, Victory Honda and Stars Elite secure big wins
The Tier-1 Elite Hockey League (T1EHL) held its annual playoffs at Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota from Feb. 17-20. Teams from the 2006, 2007 and 2008 birth years were in attendance to battle it out for division supremacy. First, league members competed in three pool-play games. After that, four teams advanced to the semifinals, and then championship games of their respective age groups.
Jr. Kings nab third straight championship
No. 25 Los Angeles Jr. Kings were feeling confident in their play heading into the league playoffs. Fresh off a newly appointed position in the World Rankings, they hoped to continue to make some noise against their fellow U14 T1EHL teams. They made quick work of their first three opponents of the weekend, outscoring the Washington Little Capitals, Cleveland Barons and Nashville Jr. Predators by a combined 19-5 total. That 3-0-0 run set up a semifinals clash with the Sioux Falls Power.
Tyus Sparks and Noah Davidson, the two leading point getters for the Jr. Kings continued their playoff dominance in that game. With Davidson tallying three points and Sparks nabbing two of his own, the L.A. defeated Sioux Falls 5-2 to reach the championship. Across five playoff games, Sparks and Davidson each collected 12 points.
The final hurdle for Los Angeles was No. 23 Dallas Stars Elite. Entering the game with extra motivation, the Jr. Kings were bested by Dallas, 3-2 back on Nov. 12. Winning all four games on their schedule, the stage was set for an exciting winner-take-all tilt. Each club would find the back of the net in the first period before the Jr. Kings pulled away in the second. Tallies by Sparks, Sean Burick and Karsten Hirasawa gave their squad a commanding 4-1 lead heading into the final frame.
But Dallas was not going to go away quietly.
Jeff Turcotte led LA Jr. Kings 14U AAA team won the Tier 1 Elite League Championship in Blaine, Minnesota with a 5-3 win over the Dallas Stars. Congratulations! pic.twitter.com/XD2KQ273n7— LA Jr. Kings (@JrKingsHockey) February 21, 2023
After two scores by Landon Amrhein and Dennis Emesibe, the Jr. Kings suddenly found their lead dwindle to just one goal. DSE proceeded to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the L.A. net, but were unable to find the equalizer. Then, Jake Brown cemented the 5-3 victory with a late shorthanded goal.
Now winners of their past nine and a fresh division championship to their name, it will be exciting to see what this Jr. Kings group does with the rest of their season.
Victory Honda gets back on track with 15O title
Heading into the postseason portion of its season, Victory Honda had suffered tough defeats at the hands of two premier U.S. teams. Dropping consecutive decisions to No. 1 Little Caesars and No. 10 Compuware, VH was in search of a spark to get back into the win column. They not only found that spark but caught fire as they rolled their way to a league championship among fellow 2007-born programs.
After taking down the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals 6-1, it seemed that Victory Honda got its mojo back by rattling off two more wins to reach the semifinal round. A narrow 5-4 win over Fox Motors put VH into the title game against the Buffalo Jr. Sabres. There was some familiarity between the two teams, as they split two games during the regular season. With the score knotted at 1-1 entering the third period, the heroics of Mike Zielinski arrived just in time. He found the back of the net twice about three minutes apart to give VH some breathing room. Two more late tallies would secure the 5-1 final.
What became apparent over their run was that VH had depth that most clubs in the league lacked. Led by Luc Plante’s five goals and seven points, by the end of the weekend, 11 players had two or more points. Plante was also a menace on special teams, notching two power-play goals and a shorthanded one as well.
Hafele secures OT win for 16U division
We have had Cullen Potter and the 2006-born Dallas Stars Elite on our radar all season long. They have shown they are capable of skating with the top-tier clubs of their birth year and can pretty much play in any game situation.
Alexander Dicker got his playoff stretch off on the right foot by backstopping Stars Elite to a 5-0 win over the Colorado Rampage. Connor Addington would take over net-minding duties in their next contest against the Jr. Admirals, a 7-1 victory. In that win, the Dallas blue line showed its strength as well, allowing only 12 shots on net. In fact, across three pool-play matchups, DSE did not give up more than 19 shots on goal in any game.
Potter collected the only hat trick of the playoffs in a come-from-behind 4-2 win against the Anaheim Jr. Ducks. Despite peppering Addington with 31 shots, the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes were unable to get more than one goal past him in a 3-1 defeat, allowing Stars Elite to move on to the title game.
Dallas Stars Elite Hockey Club…16U Tier 1 Elite Hockey League Champions!!!— Dallas Stars Elite (@DSEHC) February 20, 2023
Congratulations to all the coaches and players!#gostarselite #elitedna #GreenHelmets #t1ehlplayoffs2023 pic.twitter.com/4Aim4ljolZ
Ready to drop the puck against them were the Cleveland Barons, and fans certainly got their money’s worth in this one. After falling into a 2-0 hole in the first period, Jackson Crowder injected some life into the Dallas lineup by cutting into the deficit. Landon Watson responded for the Barons, reinstating the two-goal lead. Shortly after, Potter deposited a sweet pass from Carter Murphy to make it a 3-2 score with his team-leading 10th point of the playoffs. Sent to a late power play, Caleb Mahar tied it up in regulation to send it to overtime.
Both sides traded chances once the extra frame began, but it was Landon Hafele with the late-game heroics for DSE. With 3:43 left in overtime, Hafele notched his first goal of the playoffs, beating Gino Texter to cement the Stars Elite’s championship.