The Esmark Stars AAA hockey U18 team captured the Mid-American District Tier I Championship, and automatic bid to the USA Hockey National Tier I Championships, this past weekend, March 7-10, in Cleveland, OH.
The U18 Stars certainly did not take the easy path to the District Championship as three of their four wins occurred in overtime or a shootout following a scoreless overtime.
Esmark opened the tournament with a 4-3 win over the Cleveland Barons as they overcame a 2-1 deficit heading into the third period, scoring three times in the final frame to grab the win. Raman Yerameichyk, Matsvei Kurylovich and Olda Virag (one goal, one assist) and Corbin Ragno scored for the Stars. Cole Ferri, Dustin Geregach and Billy Rapone also recorded assists. The Stars went 2 for 4 on the power play and scored the game winning goal as Virag found the back of the net with the man advantage late in the third period. Parker Rey earned the win in goal stopping 32 of 35 Baron shots. For the game, the Stars, who outshot the Barons 39-35, held the Barons to 0 for 3 with the man advantage,
In game two, the Stars squared off with the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets and captured a 4-3 overtime / shootout win. The Stars build a 3-0 two-period lead behind goals from JT Schmizzi, Blake Rossi (power play) and Jackson Dobbs. But saw the Blue Jackets storm back and score three third period goals to force overtime. Following a scoreless five minute overtime, in which the Blue Jackets had a man advantage for a little over a minute to begin the extra frame, the two teams settled the game in a five-man shootout. Gio Palombo scored on the Stars first shot and Parker Rey stopped all five Blue Jacket shooters to give the Stars the shootout win. Rey stopped 35 of the 38 shots he faced in regulation and overtime. For the game, the Stars, who outshot the Blue Jackets 40-38, finished 1 of 4 on the power play and held the Blue jackets to 0 for 3 with the man advantage,
The Stars would close round-robin play with a wild 6-5 overtime / shootout win over Gilmour Academy. In a game that would determine the final team advancing to the Mid-Am District Championship game. Gilmour needed a regulation win and Esmark either a regulation win or tie to advance, based on the international point system used for the event (3 points for a regulation win, 2 points for an overtime or shootout win, 1 point for an overtime or shootout loss and 0 points for a regulation loss).
Gilmour would grab a 2-0 period one lead and then add two second period goals to open a 4-0 lead with a little over one minute remaining in period. Matsvei Kurylovich (power play goal) and Dustin Geregach would find the back of the net twice in a little over 30 seconds to cut the Gilmour lead to 4-2 after two periods. JT Schmizzi (1G, 1A) would score early in the third to cut the lead to 4-3. But Gilmour would score a 5 on 3 power play goal to reopen a two-goal lead 5-3. Olda Virag (1G, 1A) would quickly get that goal back for the Stars as he scored a shorthanded goal during the remaining power play. Lane Ruffner would knot the game at 5-5 a few minutes later and set up a wild finish as Gilmour pushed for the regulation-time win, pulling their goaltender for the final two minutes and pressing the attack in the Stars end. But Parker Rey and the Stars defense stood tall and closed regulation time out with a 5-5 score. The two clubs skated to a scoreless five-minute overtime, during which the Stars killed three periods, setting up a second consecutive five-man shootout. Gio Palombo again opened the shootout for the Stars with a goal, matching a Gilmour goal, and then Raman Yerameichyk would score again for the Stars as their fourth shooter to match a goal by Gilmour's fourth shooter. The game would advance to a sudden death shootout following the prescribed five shooters and a 2-2 tie. In round eight, Cole Ferri would beat the Gilmour goalie and score and secure the win for the Stars, 6-5. Tyler Stewart (3), Andrew Jacobs, Cole Ferri, Raman Yerameichyk recorded assists. The Stars would finish 1 for 6 on the power play, while Gilmour was 3 for 10 withe man-advantage. Gilmour outshot the Stars 48-47 for the game.
The shootout win advanced the Stars to the Tier I 18U Mid-American Championship game as the number one seed (7 points) and a rematch from the 2017 U16 and 2018 U18 Mid-American Championship Games with Culver Military Academy (6 points) on Sunday, March 10.
The Stars would score early in the first period of the Championship game on the power play as Anton Kozitskiy would convert. Blake Rossi and Raman Yerameichyk earned the assists. The score would remain 1-0 Esmark until late in the second period when Culver converted on a front of the net play to send the two teams to a 1-1 tie after two periods. The two clubs would exchange scoring opportunities in the third period but neither would find the back of the net setting up overtime and some heroics from Esmark. Four minutes and 32 seconds into overtime, Stars forward Cole Ferri retrieved a puck deep in the Culver zone and threw the puck to the front of the net where it deflected off a Culver defenseman's skate and into the net setting off a wild celebration for the Stars. Jackson Dobbs and Gio Palombo earned assists on the game winner. Goaltender Parker Rey was the other hero for the Stars as he turned aside 48 of 49 Culver shots. For the game, Culver outshot the Stars 49-34. The Stars finished 1 for 2 on the power play while Culver was 0 for 3.
With the four wins at Districts, the 18U Stars record stands at 45-12-1-1.
The Mid-Am title propels the Stars onto the USA Hockey Tier I U18 National Championship Tournament, April 3 - 8, 2019, in Grand Rapids, MI, as champions from the 12 districts within USA Hockey, as well as four at-large teams selected by USA Hockey, will meet to determine a National Champion.
This is the first Mid-Am Championship for the U18 Stars. The U16 Stars have captured the Mid-Am title twice, including last season.