Story written by Stephen Hunt- Red Line Editorial, Inc
PLANO, Texas — Last Friday, the McKinney (Texas) North Stars eked out a 3-2 win against the Anchorage North Stars in 2A division play of the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U National Championships at the Plano StarCenter.
But Anchorage head coach Matt Thompson knew that if his group somehow got a rematch against their Texas foe later in the tournament, the outcome might be different.
On Monday, Thompson and his North Stars got their wish. Again, the dueling North Stars delivered an entertaining, close contest. It was a great back-and-forth battle between two evenly-matched foes.
In fact, the game was tied 3-3 late and appeared it could be headed to overtime, much like the other two finals earlier in the day.
However, that changed when Anchorage’s Hayden Fox netted his second goal of the game, scoring at the far post on a bang-bang play off the rush, knocking in a Tucker Lien pass with 51.5 seconds remaining.
“Yeah, oddly enough it was a guy (Lien) who usually makes one too many moves at the blue line,” Thompson said. “We try to get him to skate wide every once in a while and keep it simple. He finally keeps it simple, drives it wide and we got a guy (Fox) busting the net who’s been working his butt off all tournament, busting his butt to the net. (Fox) just found a back-door pass and put it home.”
Right after the go-ahead tally, McKinney pulled their goaltender. But even with the extra attacker, the Texans failed to find an equalizer and the game ended a 4-3 final.
Anchorage is just over 3,900 miles from Plano, making the victorious North Stars the team that traveled the farthest to the tournament, a championship which makes this trip time well spent.
From the beginning of the year, we were planning on being at this point,” Thompson said. “We knew we had a strong group. Just trying to keep them motivated. A midget team from Alaska hasn’t won nationals since I think ’95 or ’96, so I used that as encouragement for my group and the boys really delivered. All year, they stuck together.”
Thompson then discussed how even on his team’s longest trip of the season, he and his assistants tried to maintain the same routines from previous road trips, including keeping his players on the same lines and ensuring they’re all eating the right foods.
However, he also admitted to employing another somewhat unconventional strategy at nationals, a decision which ended up with his North Stars bringing home the championship hardware.
“A lot of guys want to watch the other games but I’m like hey guys, focus on the game at hand,” Thompson said.
And as far as getting that rematch with McKinney that he and his players wanted, the Anchorage head coach admits he’d had an inkling that’s how the tournament might play out.
“It was kind of interesting how the tournament laid out,” Thompson said. “We ended up playing McKinney in the round-robin. We had a really close game. It was a battle and they ended up coming out on top, 3-2. For it to be kind of going the same way it did in the game before, but us finally being able to find a way at the end of the game to pull ahead, it was unbelievable.”
From the day Anchorage started practice last August, Thompson had a feeling this might be a special group, a roster that had what it takes to not only make it to nationals, but also to bring a championship back to The Last Frontier.
The Anchorage North Stars employed two mottos this season: “Let’s Leave No Doubt” and “Together We Can.”
And nothing makes their coach prouder than to see what a cohesive, championship-winning group they have become.
“I think they bought into that system of saying hey, I believe in every single guy in this locker room and we’re going to get it done if we do that,” Thompson said. “I personally think that we can only beat ourselves, that we have a really good group. They really pulled it together here and found a way to win in the dying minutes of the game.”