It wasn’t the Stanley Cup but it was a championship, and it was savored.
The Junior Hurricanes 18U AA team this week won the USA Hockey national championship, beating the Delaware Ducks 3-1 in the Tier II title game in East Lansing, Mich.
“While we have had many teams advance to Nationals, and had several compete in the final game, they represent the first team in our history to win the national championship,” said Dan Hollis, president of Jr. Hurricanes/Raleigh Youth Hockey Association.
Rich Brouwer, who coached the team, said the goal from the start of the season was to win the Nationals, not just compete in them.
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“Our goal from day one was to be the first,” he said. “Someone had to be the first, so why not us? If you’re going to dream, dream big.
“The strength of our team was our chemistry and unity. It took a lot of hard work and determination, and it all came together at the end.”
Jay Stephens had two goals and assisted on the third for the Jr. Hurricanes against the Ducks, who defeated the Jr. Hurricanes in a shootout earlier in the tournament.
Stephens’ first goal, in the second period, tied the score 1-1. Defenseman Devin Halko, the team captain and son of former Hurricanes defenseman Steve Halko, scored the go-ahead goal midway through the third period, and Stephens had an empty-netter to seal it.
The players soon were mobbing goalie Dakota Ohmer, who had 29 saves, in a mass celebration.
“We had a very young, defensive-minded team without a lot of scoring power,” Brouwer said. “We had good goaltending, strong defense and when the other teams made mistakes we capitalized on them.
“Every single player on our team was a first-year player on the (18U) team. It was all new for them at Nationals. It was a great experience for them.”