The Atlanta Fire have been here before.
The Fire just won their second Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 14U Nationals title in as many years with a 6-5 win over the Idaho Jr. Steelheads.
It was a win they had to fight for, and Atlanta’s last matchup with Idaho wasn’t as favorable for the Fire.
“We played them in January and they beat us 4-2,” Atlanta head coach Curtis “Mo” Morrison said. “They’re a great hockey team and they have a ton of character.”
Idaho led 5-4 after two periods of play, but the Fire weren’t about to go down quietly.
“We just kept fighting on and on,” said forward Jason Barnard. “We had to keep going, keep positive. It helped coming from a 5-0 record from the weekend. We came together as a team and helped everybody out.”
With 8:50 left in the third period, a hooking call against Idaho gave Atlanta a power play. They’d had strong possession on the power play all weekend, but Morrison told his players before this game that they needed a little more.
“Our power plays have had great possession all five games, but we haven’t really capitalized,” Morrison said. “And today was the day I told them, if we get a power play opportunity, we have to make hay on it, and that was a key point in the game.”
George Goodwin scored with just two seconds left in the power play to tie the game at five with 6:52 remaining in regulation. It was Goodwin’s second goal of the game; he had an assist as well.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, just go around the guy, go in, and don’t think of anything else, do what the coach said,’” Goodwin explained. “It was crazy. The team was ecstatic. Coach was lifting us up on the bench.”
Morrison could be heard through the rink as time got shorter, but inside he was calm.
“I’m boisterous on the bench, but I’m pretty even keeled inside,” he said. “I knew we had the ability to win. Obviously I had to shorten the bench a little bit more than last year, but our clutch guys and our key guys came through and when we needed them, they were there.”
It was Barnard who came through with the game winner less than two minutes after Goodwin tied the game. It was Barnard’s second of the game as well, and he also had an assist. The Fire took a 6-5 lead with 4:59 left in the third.
“It’s just about crashing the net and having forwards go,” Barnard said. “We have a lot of talented kids who can make those types of passes, go behind the net, just pass it right through the front, see me, and you just have to bury pucks at the net.”
With 1:04 left, Goodwin was called for head contact and forced to watch the rest of the game from the penalty box. The Fire had seen throughout the game that things could change quickly, but they’d also learned to trust in their teammates.
“My boys can block it. They can block the shot. They can do it. I have faith in them,” Goodwin said. “We played as a team, won as a team. We blocked shots. We dove for pucks, sacrificed our body, and we just did our thing.”
The Fire did what they needed to do to finish off the win and complete their back-to-back national championships.
“It feels great,” said Barnard. “It’s all a team effort. We had players who played a lot, players who didn’t, but no matter what, in the end we win as a team, we lose as a team.”
“Back-to-back,” said Goodwin. “One last year, one this year. This is amazing.”
“I’m proud of them, obviously,” said Morrison. “Two of them were with me last year when we won, so back-to-back championships at the 14U level for our program is huge. This is for everyone in the Atlanta Fire organization and the entire state of Georgia, and we’re proud of this.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.