By Jeremy Ellis
It is hump day here in Atlanta and we are set for six championship games on the Labeda rink. There was no waiting this morning as the first game of the day brought down the lights with finals playing right from the jump. While the 18u division finishes with 3 gold medal games this evening, it was the 14u teams skating in the morning. Some of these teams were forced to play their way in last night so the higher seeds would seem to have the advantage.
First up was the Chill Lizards and the Jr Gladiators Red for the Silver division championship. The Glads were dropped down to Silver due to tiebreakers, but they would get the playoff bye as a result. While winless during round robin, the Chill Lizards put it together come playoff time in defeating the Roadrunners AA squad. The final would be all Gladiators. Leading 1-0 after the first half, the Gladiators turned it on in the 2nd half and finished with a 4-0 win. Caden Olenczak was the catalyst with a goal and 2 assists in the final.
A contender for most exciting game of the Finals was the 14u Gold championship. The Lizard Kings earned the trip with a convincing 5-1 win over the Cayman Islands. Awaiting them were the Mission Bauer Bordercats. The first half was tightly played with neither team finding the back of the net. The second half was a different story entirely; 6 goals scored. A see saw affair, the Bordercats went ahead twice only to have the Lizard Kings tie it up a minute later. Knotted at 2, it looked as if this game was headed to overtime. During a goalmouth scramble, a Lizard King player fell on the Bordercat goalie, Tyler Long. Long took a few minutes to shake it off and it seemed as if he was still feeling it when play resumed. Just moments after that a neutral zone mistake led to a Lizard King breakaway, where Chris Bebalos slid one past Long with just 20 seconds remaining for his second goal of the game. The Bordercats were not quite ready to lie down though. Jack O’Hansain saved the day with his tying goal with under 5 seconds to play in regulation. Overtime was destiny. One minute into the extra frame, Sean Hastings took a behind the back pass from Alex Bedenko to end it 4-3 for the gold medal winning Bordercats.
Our last championship in 14u was the platinum bracket and featured the Tour Roadrunners and Jr Gladiators White. Both teams were dominant in Round Robin play. The Gladiators had only allowed 3 goals in 4 games, but lost that tiebreaker to the Roadrunners, who only let in 2. It was odds on that offense would be at a premium in the final. The Gladiators held a 2-1 lead at the break, but the Roadrunners evened the score 3 minutes into the second half. The Gladiators would fight back though and took the lead once more on Georgie Goodwin’s second goal of the game. His 3 points along with stellar goalie play from Nick SImo would be enough to ice it. Final score was 3-2 with the Gladiators represented well in this division as the hometown teams and were able to defend their turf here in Alpharetta.
We welcomed the Junior division to the floor to give us a championship respite for 3 games. We resumed at 230 PM with the 18u Gold final between Fire and Ice and the Tour Roadrunners 00. The Fire and Ice team was a lethal combination of Team Hot as Fire and the Mission Black Ice. Combining two of the most talented organizations in the sport proved to be too much for the Roadrunners in this one. Fire and Ice was relegated to Gold after a 6-0 defeat against the Tour Roadrunners. For this one they exacted revenge by dominating the RR00 9-1. I thought the Fire and Ice may be disappointed after missing out on Platinum, but they stepped up big time in earning the gold medal.
The Platinum final was next with two undefeated teams facing off: The Tour Roadrunners and the ISCA Grizzlies. Tie Breakers enabled the Grizzlies to get the championship auto bid. In watching this division, I felt as if the Roadrunners were the best team. They had their way with opponents during the round robin and were a juggernaut. ISCA has a good squad and looked awesome this weekend, but I don’t think they were ready for a high scoring Roadrunners team. Right off the bat the Roadrunners jumped out to the lead and were leading 4-1 at half. That score was duplicated in the second 12 minutes with final ending up 8-2 Roadrunners taking the gold medal. Kudos to Vio for picking up his first gold medal of the event.
Our last championship of the day was the Colorado Stallions and the Michigan Mavericks. This was our best game in the 18u group of finals. A tight low scoring game, most of all the scoring was done in the second half. Goals a minute apart by the Stallions were the game changer. The Mavericks got on the board with a few minutes left, but by that time it was in hand for the Stallions. Goaltender Drew Medina was a huge difference maker as time and again he turned away Mavericks rushes. Trevor Zimmer had a great run this week and finished his tournament strong with a goal and an assist.
We just finished up a podcast so keep an eye out for that with a special guest. It is my swan song here as I head out in the AM. Finals number 12 is in the books for me this year and I am grateful for the opportunity and for seeing all my hockey friends this week. Good luck to everyone the rest of the way! TTYL from the Cooler, see you at the rink!