By @MichaelCaples –
PLYMOUTH – In an an All-Michigan final game of the 2019 USA Hockey 15-Only National Championships in Plymouth, Little Caesars emerged victorious.
Little Caesars topped the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies 4-0 to capture a national title inside the friendly confines of USA Hockey Arena.
“It feels amazing,” head coach Patrik Stefan said. “It’s been a long road, a long season. We played lots of hockey over the last month or so, with states, the OHL Cup, and now nationals. It was a grind, but obviously the credit to the boys, they pulled it off. They showed up and played hard throughout the weekend.”
Photos by Michael Caples/MiHockey
Ethan Wissink and Luke Hughes scored in the first half of the title game for Little Caesars before Nikita Tarasevich added a late second-period goal and a late third-period goal to wrap things up.
Zakari Brice was perfect between the pipes, stopping all 13 shots sent his way.
“It’s unreal,” the Little Caesars goaltender said after the game. “The guys played the whole game, really helped me out. We got it done, and it feels great.
“Can’t even put it into words. This has been our goal since the beginning of the season, and it came true. It’s unbelievable.”
After one hiccup in the preliminary round, Little Caesars marched through the elimination rounds, beating the Buffalo Jr. Sabres 5-1 in the quarterfinals and Shattuck St. Mary’s 5-0 in the semifinals.
“I think it just shows the strength of our team, the strength of the depth guys, the goalie Zak Brice was unreal in the last three games, they played great defense and sticking together, and that’s what playoff hockey is about,” Stefan said. “You’re not going to win too many playoff games with one or two guys, you need the whole team, and obviously we showed that over the last three games.”
Hughes, who was selected for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program on Friday, said the lone loss – a 4-3 battle with the New Jersey Rockets – was a wake-up call.
“I think we just believed in each other and believed in the process,” the Michigan commit said. “We possessed the puck, and we scored on our chances. We didn’t play great in the round robin, the second game, but we kept on building off that and we just kept getting better and better as the tournament went on.
“It’s awesome. our team’s been through so much this year, it’s such a great memory for us and it’s so exciting that we won.”
Tarasevich led the tournament in scoring, as he racked up 13 points in six games. Brice finished with five wins, a .937 save percentage and a tournament-best three shutouts.