Esmark Stars 18U team headed to USA Hockey Nationals
March 10, 2020
The Esmark Stars U18 Tier I AAA team, proud members of the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL), swept four consecutive games this past weekend, March 5 - 8, to secure the Mid-American District Tier I Championships at the UPMC Lemieux Center in Cranberry Township, PA.
The top six Tier I (AAA) teams in each age bracket within the Mid-American District, based on the rankings assigned by the website (www.MyHockeyRankings.com) as of Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, qualified for the event and were ranked 1-6 at each age group (U18, U16, U15 and U14).
The U18 Stars opened play on Thursday, March 5, with a 5-3 win over the U18 Cleveland Barons at the Lemieux Center. Ty Stewart, Ryder Brophy, Alex Walker and Dominic Dezort each scored a goal and an assist, and Dalton Swartz a goal as the Stars claimed the "W" in their opening game. Ed Pazo (2A), John Camp (2A) and Corbin Ragno added assists. Connor Stroebel stopped 35 of 38 shots to earn the win in goal. The Stars were 2 for 6 on the power play, while holding the Barons 0 for 4 on their man-advantages.
The Stars returned to the ice Friday, March 6, and skated to a 8-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite at the Lemieux Center. Dustin Geregach (2G, 1A) led the Esmark's offensive attack. Ed Pazo (1G, 2A), Nikita Zapolski (1G, 1A), Dalton Swartz (1G, 1A), Corbin Ragno, Gio Palombo and Alex Walker all scored goals. Ty Stewart (3A), Ryder Brophy (3A), Jerome Oliver (2A) and Lane Ruffner all picked up assists. Danny Mitchell earned the win in goal, stopping 25 of the 27 Pens shots he faced. The Stars were 4 for 9 on the power play, while holding the Pens 0 for 3 on their man-advantages.
Esmark closed round-robin play with a 3-1 win over the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets, on Saturday (March 7) afternoon. Lane Ruffner (1G, 1A), Dominic Dezort and John Camp all scored for the Stars. Ty Stewart (2A), Trent Gray, Ed Pazo, and Dustin Geregach picked up assists. Connor Strobel earned the win in goal stopping 30 of 31 Blue Jacket shots he faced. The Stars were 2 for 8 on the power play, while holding the Blue Jackets 0 for 5 on their man-advantages.
With the win, the Stars secured the number one seed and advanced to the 2020 U18 Mid-American District Tier I Championship game where they would meet the Gilmour Academy Lancers.
In front of a standing room only crowd at the Lemieux Center, the Stars and Lancers squared-off in a 12:00 p.m. game on Sunday, March 8, that saw the Stars skate to a 3-1 win and the Mid-American District Tier I U18 Championship and the automatic bid to the USA Hockey National Championships in Rochester, MI, April 1-6, 2020, where they will compete for the USA Hockey Tier I National Championship.
In the championship game, after scoring an apparent opening minute goal by Alex Walker, the on-ice officials reversed their call and allowed Gilmour to escape without an early first minute goal against. However later in the first frame, Walker would find the back of the net and give the Stars a 1-0 lead that would hold through the first period. Ed Pazo and Ryder Brophy earned assists on the goal.
Midway through the second period Ty Stewart would score to push the Stars lead to 2-0, which would hold through two periods. Dustin Geregach and Gio Palombo earned assists on Stewart's goal.
Gilmour would get on the board, converting a Stars turnover, to cut the lead to 2-1 with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation.
The remainder of the game saw a wild finish as Gilmour peppered Stars goaltender Connor Strobel in a desperate effort to knot the contest, but Strobel turned everything thrown at him back, with some timely blocked shots from his D-men.
And with just inside 30 seconds to play and Gilmour skating with an extra attacker, as they had pulled their goaltender, Ty Stewart knocked a jump-ball puck out of the air with his glove and then beat the Gilmour defense to the loose puck and buried an empty net goal, his second of the game, to seal the final score, 3-1, and secure the title for Esmark.
For the game, Connor Strobel stopped 40 of 41 shots he faced to earn the win in goal. Neither team scored with the man-advantage as both squads went 0 for 4 on the power-play.
The Stars will take an overall record of (47-7-6-3) into the USA Hockey Tier I U18 National Championships.