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Beast League/USA Nationals

By Gary Demopoulos, 04/10/24, 10:30AM EDT



The Long Island Gulls made the long trip out to Las Vegas worthwhile, coming home with the organization’s second straight USA Hockey Tier 1 U16 national championship.

The Gulls went 2-1 in their round robin play, then swept three playoff games enroute to the title, knocking off a tough Los Angeles Jr. Kings club in the championship game, 2-0.

Outshot 31-17, including 12-2 in the first period, the Gulls made a pair of second period goals from Marko Lisica and Poul Andersen stand up. Ryan Cameron was outstanding in goal, especially in the opening period.

“We don’t win the game without Ryan’s performance in the first period,” said Gulls coach Dan Cassano. “We were fighting some nerves as a group and our play reflected that. Uncharacteristic turnovers in bad areas, poor defense in our end and lack of attack mindset. Ryan was there for us to allow us to find our game. Nothing new, though, it’s been that way for two years.”

Long Island and the Jr. Kings both came out of the NHL Division, and played during the round-robin, a 1-0 win for the Gulls. So, both teams were well aware of their championship game opponent.

“I would say it helped a bit from our ability to be able to watch back our round robin game to see how they had played us, how they reacted to our special teams and little adjustments we would need to make to be successful. I would say it definitely helped them as well. They are a well-coached team and they made some changes that made the final game more difficult for us.”

In the quarterfinal round, the Gulls dispatched fellow Beast Tournament Series foe Mid-Fairfield Rangers, 6-2, and edged a solid Little Caesars squad, 2-1, in the semifinals.

Malachi McKinnon was the Gulls’ top scorer for the week with three goals and six assists. whille Andersen, Joseph Argentina and Cooper Dennis each had six-point weeks. Ethan Wyttenbach had four goals.

Cameron played in five of Long Island’s six games, and finished with a sparkling 0.84 gaa.

“I think it says a ton about our program to win back-to-back,” Cassano said. “U16 is the holy grail of youth hockey; it’s very hard to win. You need some good fortune, some bounces to go your way, health, all of it. To watch our team persevere through a ton of adversity and be rewarded for their hard work is extremely satisfying. We’ve had the chance to coach some special players these last couple of years – mentally tough and willing to do whatever it takes to win. That’s where I feel the success comes from – we have the hardest working playrs who care the most.”

The Mid-Fairfield Rangers advanced to the quarterfinal round after going 2-1 in their round-robin play, following up a loss to the Chicago Mission with victories over Sioux Falls Power and the Dallas Stars Elite.

Both Oliver Czaja and Easton Kinsler had three goals for the Rangers in their four-game week. Defenseman Thomas Bleyl contributed four points, as did Ryan Headley. Goalies Steven Luciano and John Fichthorn split duties.

The third Beast Tournament Series program at the U16 Nationals, the New Jersey Rockets, did not make it to the playoff rounds, losing three tough games to Saints Hockey, Little Caesars and Compuware by a combined four goals.

The Rockets got a pair of goals each from Aidan Wilson, Matthew Dabrowski and Tyler Kusznier.