VJW '97 Elites Cap Off Superior Season at USA Hockey National Championship

 VJW '97 Elites took a much-deserved break following the team's 2-1 shootout win over Team Wisconsin
The Valley Jr Warriors ’97 Elites capped off its 2014 USA Hockey U16 Tier I National Championship experience last week in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The Warriors came one goal shy of advancing to the playoffs after being defeated by the third-ranked team in the country, Colorado, by a score of 2-1. It marks the end of a stellar season which saw the Warrior squad capture its third straight Massachusetts State Championship title.

Despite playing a half season and taking nearly fourth months off to compete for their respective high school teams, the Warriors came back together in March to prepare for the national championships and performed admirably. During its championship run, the VJW '97 Elites played three games against top-ranked teams that were all decided by just one goal.

A highlight from the experience was a 2-1 shootout victory over Team Wisconsin. In front of a full house that included more than 100 major junior league and collegiate scouts, the Warriors defeated Team Wisconsin by a score of 2-1. The outcome for the Warriors – which came against the sixth-ranked team in the country that was also playing in front of a home crowd – came following an exciting shootout where the Warriors dominated by a score of 3-0.

“It was great hockey,” said Head Coach Steve MacAdams. “We played three games. One went to overtime and another ended in a shootout. Every team here is good and the quality is so high.”

In that game against Team Wisconsin, it was Ryan McDonough  - off a feed from Cameron Russo – who evened the game in the second period. The game stayed knotted at 1-1 until the shootout where Bailey Conger, George Sennott and Eric MacAdams came through with scores to secure the 2-1 win.

The victory over Team Wisconsin breathed new life into the Warriors after they were defeated - in extra time – by Wilkes-Barre on Thursday. It was a frustrating loss only because the Warriors held at 3-0 lead midway through the game, but could not hold on.

“We lost our legs in that game,” said MacAdams. “It’s especially hard for our team because we play a reduced schedule and some of these kids who play Prep School hockey have been off the ice for a while. In that game, we just had that lapse which hurt us.”

To MacAdams’ point, many of the teams that advanced to the 2014 USA Hockey U16 Tier I National Championship play full-year schedules that includes 50 to 70 games and extensive national travel. The VJW ’97 Elites compete in a half schedule so that the players can compete on their high school teams during the winter months.

“When we are playing well, we can play with any team in the country,” said MacAdams. “I think that we have showed that this week. Everyone is talented here but you need a little bit of luck here and we were no different.”

Helping the Warriors’ cause on Thursday against Team Wisconsin was a red-hot Elijah Harris who has already made 74 saves through just two games. He was especially strong on Thursday when he made 37 saves through regulation and overtime play and then blanked Team Wisconsin during the shootout.

“He was the number one star for sure,” said MacAdams. “We killed off a bunch of penalties, but he played great. He is just a confident kid in general. Whether he stops everything or lets a few in, he is always event keel and never gets rattled. I told thekids during overtime to just get to the shootout because I knew that we would win with the way Elijah was playing.”

The players followed their coach’s sage advice and victory was indeed the end result. 

The Warriors then faced off against the Colorado Thunderbirds in the last game of pool play. Only two teams from each bracket advanced to playoffs.

The VJW '97 Elites fell behind by a score of 2-0 after the first period. A short-handed tally by David Giunta in the third period drew the Warriors to within one goal, but it would not be enough as the Warriors came up just short.

Proving that the Warriors could compete and beat any team in the nation, the two teams that ended up competing in the final national championship game were Team Wisconsin and Colorado Thunderbirds.

Congratulations to the entire VJW '97 Elites team and coaching staff on a tremendous season!

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