by Matt Gajtka
FRASER, Mich. — It’s not often a team gets a second chance at knocking off No. 1, but on Sunday afternoon at Big Boy Arena, the BK Selects 19Us had such an opportunity.
After falling 3-2 to top-ranked Little Caesars on Friday in the round-robin portion of the Motor City Girls Fest, the Selects struck back against the powerhouse Detroit-based program with a 3-0 victory in the championship game, earning their second tournament title of the 2021-22 season.
“When the chips were on the table and there was a championship at stake,” said 19Us head coach Paul Colontino, “the way our team responded was exceptional.”
Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa./Wisconsin) earned her fourth shutout of the weekend in the title tilt, stopping 37 Little Caesars shots. Due to an injury to Chloe Lewis (Monson, Mass.), McNaughton had to go it alone in what ended up being a six-game marathon.
“Little Caesars is always a physical, high-pressure game,” McNaughton said. “On Sunday, all I could think about was doing whatever I could for the team. I didn’t really realize how tired and sore I was until the bus ride after.”
In fact, McNaughton didn’t let a single goal in during the playoff portion of the tournament, as the eighth-ranked Selects (33-11-3) knocked out two other Michigan teams in Belle Tire (1-0 in the quarterfinals) and Honeybaked (3-0 in the semis).
“I loved how every player stepped up this weekend,” McNaughton said. “Every player put it all on the line for the team. It allowed us to come up with huge plays, whether it be penalty kills, power plays, blocked shots, big saves or outlasting an opponent’s pressure.
“It was super-exciting to see our team play better and better every game. To win the championship against a team we had lost to earlier was very fulfilling.”
Bella Vasseur (Waitsfield, Vt./Wisconsin) was similarly productive under the bright lights, scoring the Selects’ first (and only) goal against Belle Tire with a solo spinning effort, followed by a hard wrister from her off-wing against Honeybaked to put BK on top early in that one, too.
Much like the team, Vasseur rebounded from round-robin disappointment, as she was stopped on a last-minute penalty shot in the first meeting with Little Caesars.
“I was very excited,” said Vasseur about the chance to play Little Caesars with everything on the line. “It’s always a great game when we play them, and I knew the outcome was going to be different.
“It was a big revenge game.”
Vasseur also assisted on a Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla./Northeastern) rebound goal in the championship game, pushing the 19Us on top first yet again. They would require no further offense, although insurance was certainly welcomed against the nation’s top team.
Laila Edwards (Cleveland Heights, Ohio/Wisconsin) followed up her own breakaway for a 2-0 advantage, then Izzy Krause (Calabasas, Calif.) finished a two-on-one rush for the final goal, going far side after Vanessa Stamper (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) broke up a play in the neutral zone.
“The biggest thing was that we played as a team,” Vasseur said. “We worked as a team, had a lot of energy, and had a lot of fun doing it.”
Edwards scored a pair of goals on Sunday, deking around the Honeybaked goalie for a two-goal lead in the semifinal. She assisted on the victory-capper off the stick of Kendall Butze (Shaker Heights, Ohio/Penn State) as well.
But by the time the final buzzer sounded against Little Caesars, the details blurred into the background. The Selects poured off the bench to mob McNaughton and pose next to a banner that’ll look great next to the one they earned in Nashville back in the fall.
“Three days with two games per day, it’s a marathon,” Colontino said. “You need the depth of a team to do it. We were in a great position come Sunday to be fresh for the first game and then outwork our opponent in the final.”
The eighth-ranked 16Us (37-11-5) came this close to duplicating the 19Us’ feat, falling 3-2 to the Chicago Young Americans in a back-and-forth final.
Jake Anderson’s squad had outscored its first five opponents in the event by a combined total of 23-1, culminating in a 2-0 semifinal victory over Belle Tire. The highest-ranked team in the 16U bracket, No. 5 Little Caesars, had fallen to Belle Tire in the quarterfinal round
“That was probably our best game,” Anderson said of the semi. “First two periods, we came out flying, weren’t giving them anything, moving the puck and playing well in the O-zone. It was good for us to control the whole thing.
“We were able to use the depth of our team. We raised the level as the weekend went on and got through the semifinal game.”
Angela DiGiorlamo (Woburn, Mass.) scored five goals in the three-game playoff round, while Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont.) piled up a handful of points over those same games.
In goal, the 16Us alternated evenly between Emeline Grennan (Washington, D.C.) and Michaela Hesova (Hovorčovice, Czechia), with each earning two shutouts. Anderson said Hesova played well in the championship despite the loss, while Grennan was “awesome” in the semifinal.
“We just tried to focus on trying to get better every game,” Anderson said. “We wanted to get into the tournament and get everyone going. Now, can we play a little bit better, tighten this up and keep working.”
Along with the 19Us, the 16Us will stay in Rochester this weekend as they host a three-game showcase.
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