National junior hockey tournament: Atlanta holds on to advance
Atlanta Knights coach Scott Fankhouser had to sweat out another victory on Sunday.
The Knights held off Long Island 4-3 to win Pool B of the USA Hockey Junior A, Tier III National Championships at Graham Arena on Sunday.
With a loss the Knights might have been eliminated from the tournament. Instead they advance to today's semifinals.
"I was nervous," Fankhouser admitted. "It's been that way all year (close games). We're a defensive hockey team. We're built to be a defensive team and we have to be a disciplined team and play under control."
The Knights finished 3-0 in pool play. They opened with a 6-1 win over Chicago, but then posted a pair of one-goal victories against defending champion Helena and Long Island.
"Just hard work," Fankhouser said. "We count on all our players. We don't have a superstar. We just use 20 guys and go out and play together."
Atlanta had four different players score against Long Island on Sunday. The Knights built a 4-1 lead and then held on for the victory.
"We're pretty glad to come out of the game (with a victory)," Fankhouser said. "You have to give credit to that team. Long Island played great. They gave us all we could handle."
On Saturday, goalie Derek Willms posted a shutout as the Knights nipped defending champion Helena 1-0. Willms has played in all three tourney games so far and has allowed four goals. Willms had 25 saves in Sunday's win over Long Island.
"My goaltender is playing very well right now," Fankhouser said.
This is Atlanta's first year in Junior B hockey and Fankhouser's first year coaching the team.
"It's off to a good start," Fankhouser said. "It feels good; I'm happy right now."
Pulling for Ice Hawks
With Sunday's loss to Atlanta, Long Island finished 2-1 and second in pool play, but still had a strong shot to earn a wild-card berth and advance to the final four of the tournament.
Long Island held a lead over all the other second-place pool teams, but had to wait the outcome of the Rochester and New Jersey game in the final contest of the night. A Rochester win would give Long Island the berth, but a New Jersey win would have knocked Long Island out of the tourney.
"We're big Rochester fans now," Long Island coach Ken Hoey.
The Ice Hawks helped Long Island out by pulling out a late 5-4 win over New Jersey. Now Rochester and Long Island will meet in the semifinals today at 6 p.m. at the Rec Center.
"We put ourselves at least in the position (to advance)," Hoey said.
It was very close, however. Long Island, Northern Lights and the Missoula Maulers all finished 2-1 in pool play and the runner-up in their respective pools.
Goal differential is the first tiebreaker, which eliminated Missoula. Long Island and Northern Lights were both plus-6. Long Island won the next tiebreaker having allowed fewer goals.
Long Island trailed Atlanta 4-1 before scoring the final two goals of Sunday's game.
"We played well after the first period," Hoey said. "We just ran out of gas."
If Long Island had lost to Atlanta by two goals, the Royals would not have earned the wild-card bid. Hoey didn't tell his players of the situation until the final five minutes of play. With that in mind, Long Island had to play conservative late in the game.
"We were in a catch-22 (situation)," Hoey said. "We couldn't pull the goalie and we had to play defensive."
But the one-goal loss proved to be enough to allow Long Island to advance. The Royals will now try to beat an Ice Hawks team that only 24 hours earlier then needed to win.