Ann Arbor Cougars ‘never quit battling’ in 19U T2 finals
While the Ann Arbor Cougars finished one win away from a National Championship in the 19U Tier II tournament at Troy Sports Center April 10, they were still in good spirits after losing 4-0 to the San Jose Jr. Sharks.
“I couldn't be happier,” said Cougars head coach Brian Gibson after the game as he watched his team receive flowers and cupcakes from their fans and pose for photos with their National Finalist trophy. “We had 10 skaters, two goalies. This is our sixth game in five days (and) they never quit battling. We just didn't get some bounces today.
“It's the best group I've ever coached.”
The Sharks, with a deeper roster of 15 skaters but oddly only one goalie, got three goals from Evelyne Blais-Savoie, a natural hat trick, and each goal unassisted, and another from Theresa Chickles.
“Today they (Sharks) were the best team and they were ranked pretty high in myhockeyrankings, they were third or fourth,” said Gibson, whose team was ranked 10th most of the year. “They're a good, solid team top to bottom. They move the puck well. They deserved to win it.”
“When you're only skating 10 players, our team is skating four periods to the other team's three periods if they have three lines,” Gibson said. “But we are in good physical shape and in most of the third periods we did not have a drop off in play.
“We have a great work ethic on this team, and it showed throughout the tournament.
“Their mental toughness is unbelievable and they're very smart” he said of his players. “We have a 3.6 grade point average as a team.”
It took mental toughness and work ethic for Ann Arbor to fight their way to the final. Their first four games were all settled by a goal.
They opened with a 2-1 win over the Boston Shamrocks; lost in a shootout in the second game to the Connecticut Northern Lights; won the last round-robin game in overtime, 4-3, over Brewster Lady Bulldogs, and then beat Team South Dakota, 4-3, in the quarterfinal, again in overtime.
The Cougars clinched the spot in the title game with a 2-0 semifinal win over West Chester, PA.
The other striking thing about the Cougars is their youth. They have only five players who are high school seniors, four of whom are planning on playing college hockey.
“Two are going to Michigan, one to Aquinas and one to Shrine,” Gibson said. “We have four juniors and three sophomores. We're a pretty young U19 team.”
Gibson admitted getting to the final was somewhat of a surprise.
“You know, in the beginning of the year, we never thought we were going to get here,” he said. “It's a blessing and you learn something from this experience.
“We had some good luck (along the way). We didn’t have all of the luck in the end. But it was a great run."