On March 30 the Montclair Blues 16AA National team descended in Michigan for the USA Hockey Nationals 16U Tier 2 tournament. They earned a spot at the tournament by winning the AAHA Districts back in November in a best of 3 series against the North Jersey Kings. The Blues eased into the weekend with a convincing 9-1 win over the Central Connecticut Capitals at the Troy Sports Center. Will Benson came up big and walked away with a hat trick, while Rowan Brennan and Jack Mac Evoy had 2 goals each. Will Troiano and Joey Castellano also netted one goal apiece. Pytor Sysak, Brennan, Matt Crowell, Mac Evoy, Castellano, Luca Infusino, and Andrew Eremita all picked up assists. Torin Schraven and Julian Melendez were very stingy splitting time in goal.
In game two on April 1, the Blues faced a much tougher opponent in the Affton Americans out of St. Louis, MO. Brennan opened up the scoring in the first period with assists from linemates, Infusino and Troiano. Affton tied it up later in the first and that would be how the entire game went. Infusino collected a goal in the second period, assisted by Alek Sendecki, making the score 2-1 Blues. Affton then scored two unanswered to go ahead 3-2. This lead would last until 38 seconds left in regulation time. With the Blues goalie pulled and time running out, Mac Evoy buried one from Infusino to tie up the game. Neither team could find the back of the net during a tense 5 minute overtime period, so they headed to a shootout. The Blues went down 2-0 early in the shootout, but found a way to claw back. Benson and Infusino both had stellar moves to beat the Affton goaltender and Schraven saved 8 attempts in a row, keeping the Blues alive. Crowell finished the game off with a beauty, ringing the puck off both posts with his 11th round winner.
On April 2, the Blues fell to the top-seeded Chicago Hawks in Game 3. Will Benson had the only tally. However, because they won their first two games, the Blues had already earned a spot to advance to the Elite 8. The boys regrouped the morning of April 3 for Game 4 against the undefeated Arizona Junior Sun Devils. The Sun Devils started the scoring early in the first, but Sysak evened things up with a helper from Mac Evoy. Early in the second period, the Sun Devils capitalized again, and again the Blues answered right back. Mac Evoy scored two power play goals with assists from Brennan and Infusino to give the Blues a 3-2 lead. They never looked back from there. Brennan dismantled Arizona’s power play and beat the goalie with a short-handed goal, Infusino rifled one in from Troiano, and Mac Evoy sealed the deal with an empty netter for the hat trick. Schraven was outstanding in net and the Blues handed the Sun Devils their first loss which sent them home, while the Blues punched their ticket to the Final 4.
The afternoon of April 3, the Blues faced another tough team, the Steel City Ice Renegades in the semi final game. Midway through a very evenly played first period, Hunter White weaved through traffic and threw a backhander at the net, and Troiano picked up the rebound and beat the goalie for the first goal of the game. A few minutes later, Brennan sniped one off the draw from Infusino to give the Blues a 2-0 lead. The Renegades answered with their first tally at the end of the first. In the second, Brennan manhandled the defense to put his second goal away and Infusino drove one in from Brennan to put the Blues up 4-1. However, it wasn’t enough to hold off The Renegades. They put one in at the end of the second, and came back hard in the 3rd to lead the game 6-4. White scored the final goal for the Blues with an assist from Benson on a power play but they fell short, losing 6-5.
It was an absolutely incredible run by the Montclair Blues. They faced only one team with a lower ranking than them during the entire tournament. The Blues proudly represented their club, New Jersey, and the Atlantic District by finishing 3rd in the country, an outstanding accomplishment, and did so with undeniable hockey prowess, grit, and grace.