Ice Hawks are top gun heading into semifinals
Rochester Ice Hawks assistant coach Jayson Peterson has said all season that the coaching staff wasn't preparing the Ice Hawks to win a regular-season title. They've been preparing them to be at their best in the postseason, gunning for a national title.
After seeing what the Ice Hawks accomplished during the weekend at the USA Hockey Junior A, Tier III National Tournament, that sounds about right.
The Ice Hawks did not win the Minnesota Junior Hockey League regular-season or postseason titles. And yet they're the last team standing from Minnesota.
After downing the Southern Oregon Spartans 8-3 on Saturday, the Ice Hawks secured their spot in the national semifinals with Sunday's 5-4 victory over the New Jersey Rockets.
Because the Ice Hawks won their first two games and goal differential is the tiebreaker for the wild-card, they didn't need to win Sunday to move on. They simply needed to avoid a five-goal or worse loss.
That wasn't a problem.
The Rockets were playing for their tournament lives. They needed to win to get in the semifinals.
"That's a dangerous team," Ice Hawks coach Nick Fatis said. "I think we got out of our game a little bit in the second and to start the third. But once we got back to playing our style of hockey, we looked great."
The victory did secure the No. 1 seed in the semifinals. The Ice Hawks will host the wild-card team — Long Island — in the final four at 6 p.m. today at the Rochester Recreation Center. Billings, Mont., plays Atlanta in the other semifinal at 2:30 p.m.
Ice Hawks defenseman Miles Johnson scored two goals to lead the team Sunday. He said it was far from the Ice Hawks' best game at nationals, but getting a win was important.
"I think it helps our confidence," Johnson said. "We worked hard. We had to work for this one, and it's always nice winning a game. I think we let the refs get to us a little, and we got away from doing what we do. But we got the win, so that's all that matters."
Ice Hawks goalie Karel Popper gave up four goals, but he played well, Fatis said. Popper finished with 31 saves.
"None of those were bad goals," Fatis said. "I thought he looked great. Karel did what Karel does; he stopped the puck when he was supposed to."
The Ice Hawks are now in the national semifinals for the fourth time in the last nine years. They've never reached the national finals, though, and that's a monkey Fatis hopes to get off his back today.
It won't be easy. Long Island went 2-1 in pool play, with their only loss coming by a goal to Atlanta.
"They're a very good team; they're disciplined and they play good, smart hockey," Fatis said. "We'll have to be at our best."
Johnson scored the team's first two goals Sunday. Assists went to Brandt Soukup and C.J. Clark, who was seeing his first action at nationals.
The Rockets scored the next three goals to lead 3-2 heading into the third.
The Ice Hawks came right back with two of their own. Justin Dungey tied it up with his tally at the nine-minute mark. Though the official scoresheet has Tyler Beasley scoring Rochester's next goal, it appeared the goal actually was scored by Rob Turner. That goal was set up by a great play at the blue line by Ryan Skalski.
New Jersey came back and tied it at 4-all with two minutes remaining, but Chris Williford scored the game-winner with less than a minute remaining. Derek Rahme had the assist.
"It was one of those games where we definitely didn't agree with all of the calls that were made or weren't made, but need to be more disciplined and not let that get to us," Fatis said.
At 3-0 and in the driver's seat heading into the final four, Fatis said nothing surprises him regarding this team.
"That first 20 minutes of this tournament, it was the team we always thought this team could be all year long," Fatis said. "We've seen what we knew they could do. They're getting it done now. And it's a lot of fun."
Ice Hawks blast Spartans
The Ice Hawks followed up Friday night's blowout victory with an 8-3 win over the Southern Oregon Spartans on Saturday at the Rochester Recreation Center.
The Ice Hawks gave up the first goal, but they rolled after that. T.J. Sneath had a big game, recording a hat trick.
Tyler Beasley was incredible once again. He finished with six points. Through two tournament games, Beasley had 10 points.
Karel Popper earned the win in goal. He finished with 16 saves. The Ice Hawks held a 46-19 advantage in shots on goal.
The Ice Hawks wrap up pool play at 7 p.m. Sunday night at the Rec Center against the New Jersey Rockets (1-1).
ICE HAWKS 8, SO. OREGON 3
First period — 1. So. Oregon, Joey White (MIke Leskun), 1:59; 2. Ice Hawks, Tyler Beasley (Ryan Skalski), 5:12; 3. So. Oregon, Sam Holeczy (Micahel Tallo, Leskun), 5:58; 4. Ice Hawks, T.J. Sneath (Shaun Lymer), 8:40; 5. Ice Hawks, Brandt Soukup (Beasley), 8:59.
Second period —6. Ice Hawks, Beasley (Derek Rahme), 2:38; 7. Ice Hawks, Chris Williford (Sneath, Rahme), 7:10; 8. Ice Hawks, Sneath (Rob Turner, Beasley), 13:25 (pp); 9. So. Oregon, White (Tim Talty, Luke Nickels), 16:59 (pp); 10. Ice Hawks, Jake Zarzycki (Sneath, Beasley), 19:44.
Third period —11. Ice Hawks, Turner (Beasley, Soukup), 6:37.
Shots on goal — So. Oregon 8-6-5—19; Ice Hawks 18-13-15—46. Power-play chances —So. Oregon 1-for-5; Ice Hawks 1-for-7. Penalties —So. Oregon 14 for 67 minutes; Ice Hawks 9 for 18 minutes. Goalies —So. Oregon, Derek Moser 23 saves on 30 shots, Zach Woodman 15 saves on 16 shots; Ice Hawks, Karel Popper 16 saves on 19 shots.
ICE HAWKS 5, NEW JERSEY 4
First period — 1. Ice Hawks, Miles Johnson (Brandt Soukup), 7:54; 2. Ice Hawks, Johnson (C.J. Clark), 11:04; 3. New Jersey, Travis Geraci (Chris Gambardella, Bryce Mullen), 13:21.
Second period —4. New Jersey, Daniel Willett (Frank Coscia, Ryan Hitchcock), 10:51 (pp); 5. New Jersey, Coscia (Alec Marsh, Hitchcock), 19:51.
Third period —6. Ice Hawks, Justin Dungey (Rob Turner), 9:00; 7. Ice Hawks, Tyler Beasley (Ryan Skalski), 11:45; 8. New Jersey, Willett (Hitchcock, Geraci), 17:56; 9. Ice Hawks, Chris Williford (Derek Rahme), 19:02.
Shots on goal — Ice Hawks 19-7-13—39; New Jersey 9-14-12—35. Power-play chances —Ice Hawks 0-for-2; New Jersey 1-for-6. Penalties —Ice Hawks 8 for 16 minutes; New Jersey 4 for 8 minutes. Goalies —Ice Hawks, Karel Popper 31 saves on 35 shots; New Jersey, Stephen East 34 saves on 39 shots.