MARLBORO, Mass. — After the Mount St. Charles Hockey Academy’s U15 and U16 teams watched opponents celebrate an automatic invitation to the next March’s National tournament, Mount’s U18 squad ended a long three days with their equipment strewn all over the cavernous New England Sports Center.
In Sunday’s New England District final against the upstart Northern Cyclones out of New Hampshire, the talented Mounties weathered an indifferent opening period where goalie Ethan Pearson was the star to win the title.
Providence College-bound forward Michael Citara scored the game’s opening goal in the second period and added a third-period assist, while defenseman Nate Benoit chipped in with a goal and an assist, and Robert Hyde added two assists in a 4-1 victory.
“As a team, we just came together and worked out tails off. Even though we struggled some, we found a way to put teams away and win,” Citara said. “After the first period our attitudes changed. Our energy wasn’t great on the bench and we were a little slow. I don’t know what got us going, maybe it was the break, but coach got us going.”
“This feels so good with the way the boys came together,” captain and goal scorer Victor Czerneckianair said. “We came together as a family and we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish.”
Mount’s reward for winning the New England title after going 4-1 over the last three days is two days off before hitting the ice for a couple of practices at Adelard. The Mounties will leave Woonsocket Thursday night en route to Buffalo to play three games against Beast League rivals, including the South Kent Selects Academy for the fifth time this season.
For U18 coach Matt Plante, who is also the co-director of the program with U16 coach Devin Rask, winning Sunday’s title was gratifying for a program that is in just its first season of competition.
“We talked about how we wanted to dictate the terms and not leave the decision in March in somebody else’s hands,” Plante said about the automatic invitational to Nationals in Rochester, Mich. “It’s a tight district and a hard district to win at U18 and Massachusetts is the same. Our goal from Day 1 was to reach the National tournament and do something out there. We’ve done that, so it’s nice to know we’re going and now we can focus on getting better to prepare for that.”
The Mounties, who came into Sunday morning’s semifinals on the back of a 2-0 defeat to the Yale Jr. Bulldogs Saturday, reached the final with a 5-3 victory over the East Haven YellowJackets. Defenseman Cale Crusberg-Roseen, Citara and Andrew Eberling scored in the first two periods to give the Mounties a lead they would never relinquish.
Mount didn’t trail in Sunday night’s final, but that mostly had to do with the play of Pearson, who is still uncommitted to a Division I program. The Cyclones frequently left a forward in the neutral zone when they were defending looking for stretch passes to expose the Mounties. Twice Mount gave up breakaways, but Pearson stopped both chances to keep the game scoreless after the opening period.
“Stopping those early chances definitely gives you confidence, for sure,” Pearson said after allowing just one goal in 91:03 Sunday. “The first period didn’t go our way, but kudos to the boys for getting it going in the second period. We just wore them right down. As soon as we scored those two goals, you saw their energy go away.”
One of Plante’s biggest complains in the first period was Mount’s lack of shooting from the blue line. That changed in the second and it led directly to the game’s opening goal when Robby Farrell (27 saves), stopped a Benoit shot, but Citara was on the doorstep to clean up the chance just 1:14 into the period. Mount went into intermission with a two-goal lead when Vermont commit Austin Cook ripped a shot from the blue line that went past a screened Farrell.
“It was a good period with our shooting, but structurally our defense was very good,” Plante said. “Pearson made some huge saves early to keep it nothing-nothing and that allowed us to get going.”
After wasting a two-man advantage in the first period, Mount’s up-and-down power play finally produced a goal 4:43 into the third when Hyde connected Citara, who played a pass from below the goal line to the right circle where Czerneckianair was open to rip a shot into the net.
Mount added another power-play goal when Hyde found Nate Benoit for a score at 13:59. Northern Cyclone forward Michael Young broke up Pearson’s shutout bid with a consolation goal with 31 seconds left in the game.
“It’s definitely nice not to have to rely on other people to lose or to win for us to go,” Pearson said. “It’s nice that we accomplished it ourselves at regionals. I’m proud of the boys.”
Citara was the top point scorer in the tournament with four goals and three assists, while Czerneckianair added two goals and three assists. Their linemate, Hyde, finished with a goal and four assists.
Mount was in position to send all three of its teams to Michigan, but the U15 team dropped a 5-2 decision to the Wallingford Hawks earlier in the afternoon. East Greenwich’s Brady Berard tied the game at 1 in third period, but the Connecticut squad scored two goals in a 30-second span to pull away and earn the automatic bid to Nationals.
The U16 squad led the Mid Fairfield Jr. Rangers by a goal after Sixten Jennersjo scored, but the Connecticut team scored three straight goals in the second period to take a lead they would never relinquish. Jennersjo scored late in the period to cut the deficit to one, but defensive mistakes in the third allowed the Jr. Rangers to win the district title with a 5-2 victory.
Tyler Ribera (six goals and four assists), Ryan O’Connell (five goals and three assists) and Kenny Connors (two goals and six assists) were the tournament’s top scorers. The Mounties played without defenseman Guillaume Richard, who had two goals and four assists in the World U17 Hockey Challenge in western Canada last week.
Both teams will need to continue to win games and hope they receive one of the four at-large spots that will be handed out in March.
“They’re in the top-10 in the country right now, so they’re there, but they have to continue to play well,” Plante said. “They can’t just tank it, which they won’t. There’s too much character in those teams that they will find a way. I have the utmost confidence in those teams to find a way to get to their national tournaments.”
Follow Branden Mello on Twitter @Branden_Mello
Mount St. Charles 4, Northern Cyclones 1
Northern Cyclones 0 0 1 – 1
Mount St. Charles 0 2 2 – 2
First period – No scoring.
Second period – MSC, Michael Citara (Nate Benoit), 1:14; MSC, Austin Cook (unassisted), 13:33.
Third period – MSC, Victor Czerneckianair (Citara, Robert Hyde), pp, 4:43; MSC, Benoit (Hyde), pp, 13:59; NC, Michael Young (Steven Ardagna), 19:31.
Saves – NC, Robby Farrell (27 saves); MSC, Ethan Pearson (17 saves).