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St. Lawrence Thunder Midgets defense state 16&Under hockey crown

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POTSDAM - The St. Lawrence Thunder Midgets had no trouble putting aside their high school differences for a second straight year at the New York State Amateur Hockey Association Tier II 16&Under Championship Tournament.

“These guys come from different towns and play hockey at different schools but off the ice they’re friends. They love the game. They love to work and they love to play hockey,” said coach Josh Bartell after the Thunder successfully defended their state championship crown by chrining out a 3-1 decision over the Clifton Park Dynamo in the all-Northern Zone title game Sunday evening at Clarkson’s Cheel Arena.

The Thunder, who are sanctioned by Massena Minor Hockey, went undefeated through their five tournament games with a 4-0-1 record that included a 4-0 win over the Long Island Rebels earlier on Sunday in the semi-final round. They posted first round wins over Cheektowaga (3-2) and Syracuse (6-1) while settling for a 6-6 tie with Nassau County.

In recapturing the state title, the Thunder also earned a return trip to the USA Hockey National Tournament slated to take place in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the final weekend in March. A total of 12 players on this year’s squad celebrated a second straight 16&Under banner and the majority of them also contributed to the Thunder Bantam team that skated to the 2010 state Tier II 14&Under title.

“We just get along well,” said Tye Terrance, a member of all three championship squads who notched the eventual game-winner early in the third period. “We have good friendships.”

The teams went scoreless through the first period of Sunday’s state final before Jacob Woods used a strong individual effort to break the ice. He controlled a loose puck in the neutral zone and quick fired the puck toward the end boards to the left of the Dynamo goal. He outskated a CP defender to the rebound then swept around the back of the net and slid the puck across the crease from the other side, off the pad of goaltender Brandon Rathwell and across the goalline just 1:08 into the middle frame.

“We keep talking to the guys about getting the puck deep, being first to the puck and winning the little battles to get control of it,” noted Bartell. “Jacob’s goal was a perfect example of that.”

Shortly after taking the lead, the Thunder were whistled for a five-minute major penalty for a knee-to-knee hit that sent a Dynamo player to the lockerroom and led to a game misconduct for defenseman Zach Spears. The Thunder were able to kill-off the extended Clifton Park power play and gradually took control of the game from that point on.

“Killing off the major penalty was a big lift for us,” said Bartell. “Losing Zach was tough but the guys really rallied around what happened. It bonded them together even more.”

The Thunder then took advantage of some early penalty woes for the Dynamo to take a 2-0 lead in the third period. Forty-nine seconds after a CP player was sent to the box for holding, he was joined by a teammate who was called for interference. The power play goal that came 33 seconds later started when Jacob Mayette scooped up the puck near his own blueline on the right wing then skated diagonally across the neutral zone into the Dynamo end. He continued down the left board and behind the back of the net before sliding a pass back to the left point to Danny Fyckes, who quickly sent the puck back toward the top of the slot to Terrance who one-time a slap shot into the back of the net at the 4:32 mark.

A steady Thunder forecheck kept the Clifton Park chances to a minimum after the second goal but the Dynamo pulled Rathwell with more than two minutes left in regulation and managed to break through for their only goal with the extra-attacker with 40 seconds remaining when a shot from the left point by Sean Phillips found its way into the net off a Thunder player. Zachary Sternbach assisted the goal by winning a face-off in the left circle back to Phillips.

But 20 seconds later, Robbie Scott sealed the state championship by wristing home the puck from the left wing just inside center ice.

Devin Crary went the distance backstopping the win, turning aside 16 shots while Rathwell made 28 saves in the losing cause.

“I don’t know if winning this year is any different than winning last year,” said Bartell. “tt’s just always great to win.”

SEMI-FINALS

St. Lawrence 4, Long Island 0: Playing the second semi-final on Sunday, the Thunder netted all four goals in the third period after two scoreless periods of close checking hockey to earn their bid to thei state final.

Zach Robert opened the scoring 6:27 into the final frame off assists from Jason Cardinal and Brandon Short. The Thunder went up 2-0 just 1:18 later when Trevor Keleher converted for a power play goal off assists from James McDonald and Dustin LaValley.

The Thunder went on to put the game out of reach with a pair of goals in the final minute, an unassisted empty-netter by Jake Mayette with 55 seconds left then a breakaway goal by Tucker Bartenslager with four seconds remaining that was assisted by LaValley.

Jake Watson started between the pipes for the Thunder and handled the 17 shots he faced through the first 24 minutes. Connor Paquin took over crease duties for the rest of the game and made another eight saves in preserving the shutout. Trevor Vankampen recorded 27 stops in the losing cause.

Clifton Park 1, Cheektowaga 0 (OT): Patrick Farnan ended the longest game of the weekend with an unassisted power play goal with 3:15 left in overtime after a Cheektowaga player was penalized for a contact to the head infraction 30 seconds earlier.

Rathwell made 29 saves to earn the shutout while Jacob Stanley turned aside 39 shots for the Warriors.

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