Loss in Nationals doesn't diminish Predators' impressive accomplishments
The Pittsburgh Predators came up one goal short, 4-3, against the St. Lawrence Thunder in their first game of the USA Hockey Under-14 Tier-II National Championships earlier this month in Charlotte, N.C.
Undaunted, the Predators rebounded the next day and edged the Denver University Jr. Pioneers, 5-4, in overtime, before pounding the Montgomery Blue Devils, 9-2, in their final pool-play game.
The Predators finished with five points — three for the win over Montgomery and two for the OT victory against Denver.
However, the Predators' loss in regulation, coupled with Denver's loss to St. Lawrence in overtime — which gave the Jr. Pioneers one point — kept the Predators from advancing to the playoff quarterfinals.
Two teams from each of the four divisions advanced to the quarterfinals. St. Lawrence tallied seven points to win the division, and the Denver University Jr. Pioneers got the second spot with their six points.
It was a tough end to a busy season for the Predators, but it was a memorable season that will stick with the players for many years, head coach Clay Shell said.
“It's been a busy, busy year for everyone,” Shell said. “It's been a fantastic ride.”
A full schedule of games in the Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League and the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey League in Detroit — both in the regular season and in the playoffs — added up to more than 75 games played.
The state and national playoffs added to that total.
“Scheduling was a nightmare between the two leagues, but it worked out well.”
The Predators won the PAHL's Bantam AA regular-season championship with a 17-1-2 record, and two more wins by a combined 9-1 score enabled them to claim the playoff banner as well.
The team swept their way through the state tournament, topping the Erie Lions, 9-1, on March 10 to clinch the trip to nationals.
Dominant wins in their Detroit-league playoffs by a combined 10-1 on March 16 and 17 brought home another banner for the Predators and fueled their focus for nationals.
It was the first time in the history of the league that a team from Pittsburgh had won both the regular-season and playoff banners in the same season.
“Everyone knew we had a number of goals for this season,” Shell said.
“One was to win the PAHL regular-season title, and the second one was to win in the (PAHL) playoffs. We were very focused on states and getting to nationals. That three-week stretch was what we had been working all year for. Three weeks in a row the boys showed up and played some of their best hockey of the season.
“For some players, nationals is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It was an incredible feeling, and everyone knew what it took to get there.”
A lot of players tried out for the Predators team in the late summer with the promise of a great deal of games in two leagues.
Nine players who were veterans of the Predators organization mixed with others from outside the organization.
“They came together pretty quick,” Shell said. “Most of them knew each other anyway. Hockey is a small community, and most of them played against each other or played with each other on spring teams. There weren't really any strangers. It was just a matter of getting used to each other on the ice. We knew going into the season from what we had at tryouts that it was going to be a strong year.”
The Predators played two preseason scrimmage games in August against the Ohio Selects 98 team and won both by scores of 2-0 and 5-4.
“The Ohio Selects is a good organization, and those wins gave us a good indication that it was going to be a strong season,” Shell said.
Shell said a lot of skill and a lot of heart and determination fueled this year's Predators squad.
“The team is filled with a lot of good kids,” Shell said “There are no prima donnas on this team. There aren't any issues that we've had to deal with. For me, it was just about coaching hockey and the kids learning and listening. The boys would come to me all season and want me to do whatever it took to help the team win. They were all about doing the right things for the team.”
Michael Love is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.