Pens Elite U14 team hopes momentum carries on to next season
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Momentum happened at the right time for the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Bantam Major team.
The squad started to find consistency toward the end of the season.
It showed early in the USA Hockey Tier I Under-14 National Championships at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center.
The Pens Elite squad rolled to two consecutive wins to open the tournament in their own backyard. The team beat New Jersey Devils Youth, 3-2, on the tournament's first day. The Pens Elite followed that with a 3-1 victory over the Indiana Junior Ice.
“We struggled early in the year. In the last six weeks, we started to play better and more intense and started to buy into the system we've been trying to put in for months. We got some momentum,” Pens Elite coach Jim Lilja said. “I thought the boys competed and battled hard. They worked tremendously, so those were two really good wins for us.”
Against the Devils Youth, the Pens Elite scored twice in the first period on goals from Chris Conway and Jake Tepe. Brendan Walkom and Brandon Eisel added assists. New Jersey battled back to tie the score 2-2 in the second, but Connor Ford's goal in the third lifted the Pens Elite to the win. Tepe added an assist.
The Pens Elite rallied to beat Indiana, too. Billy Harris gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 edge in the first, but the Junior Ice tied it early in the second. Trey Kirksey and Tepe followed with goals to give the team a 3-1 lead in the period, and it held on for the win. Kirksey and Beau Heakins added assists.
In the Pens Elite's third game of pool play, powerhouse Detroit Honeybaked, which went on to win the national championship, posted a 6-1 win. Marc Anthony scored Pittsburgh's lone goal off a Harris helper.
“Honeybaked is clearly at the top of the mountain,” Lilja said. “That team is loaded. They are well coached. They are the best-skilled players in the country.”
Pittsburgh advanced to the quarterfinals, but dropped a 4-0 decision to the East Coast Wizards, who are coached by former NHL and Penguins player Shawn McEachern.
“That was a really good hockey team. They are well coached, and they have great speed,” Lilja said. “Obviously, they moved the puck really well. We had our hands full, but we had our chances. We just didn't capitalize on the chances we had. We fought hard, so I am proud of the boys.”
Overall, the Pens Elite squad finished with a 31-24-12 record. They went 16-7-5 in Tier-1 Elite Hockey League action and captured the Ohio Division.
“We definitely, as a team, got better throughout the year. The players really started to develop their skills. We improved a lot,” Lilja said. “We worked hard and we were playing against top teams in the country. It was great. Throughout the year, we played in some good tournaments and we had some great games, but struggled in some, too. This is was what we worked for all year — to be ready for this opportunity.
“For this team to play at nationals, it's the chance of a lifetime. You're competing against the top 10 or 12 teams in the country. It's an honor and privilege to be there. We didn't just want to show up. We wanted to compete and earn our right to be there, and I think we did.”
Lilja believes the experience will pay off for the players.
“I think they will build off the momentum that they started to gain here. I think it'll help them going into tryouts because they don't get much of a break,” he said. “They're going to be moving up to U-16, so there are two birth years they are going to be competing against. It's a challenge, but I think they know what they need to do, and I think they'll be fine.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates can’t overcome long rain delay, Indians in interleague setback
- Pirates notebook: Taillon headed for surgery, Richard traded
- Gorman: Barnstorming tour bigger than baseball
- Gameday: Pirates vs. Indians, July 4, 2015
- MLB notebook: Yankees to donate $150K to charity for A-Rod’s 3,000th hit ball
- Tiny black weevils booming in W.Pa.
- New Penguin Kessel’s shot is what makes him special
- Ex-teammates say Kessel unfairly criticized
- America’s path to freedom reflected in region’s numerous historic sites
- Russian winger Plotnikov could join Penguins in August
- Burgeoning garden trend looks to nature as healing aid