As the chase for the Stanley Cup in professional hockey gets underway, three Bruin hockey players were a part of another championship, held from April 6-10 in Pittsburgh, Pa. Nick VanBelle, Christian LeSueur, and Strauss Mann were vital components of the Mid-Fairfield hockey team, winners of the 2017 Tier I U-18 USA Hockey Youth National Championship.
In the title game against Team Wisconsin, all three Brunswick players had a key role in the 4-3 overtime win. LeSueur scored two goals for the squad, Mann turned away 32 shots in goal, and VanBelle scored the championship-winning goal in overtime.
All three players agree that the National Title is a highlight of their youth hockey career. The game was also the final youth hockey contest for VanBelle and Mann, as the two seniors at Brunswick will eclipse the age window for youth hockey next season.
However, being the starting goaltender for all five tournament games such as Mann (.942 save percentage) or the scorer of the overtime, title-winning goal like VanBelle, it is hard to create a more magical ending to one’s youth hockey career.
For LeSueur the title win was equally sweet. The Brunswick junior, with one more season of youth hockey remaining, has been to the youth nationals on three other occasions but never won the championship.
At the U-18 national tournament, where the teams played one game a day at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Pittsburgh, Mid-Fairfield advanced to the national semifinals following a 3-0 record in divisional action.
Mid-Fairfield topped the Colorado Thunderbirds, 4-3, winning a 1-0 shootout on a LeSueur tally. Following the shootout win in the divisional opener, Mid-Fairfield bested the Pittsburgh Penguins (4-2) and the Oakland Grizzlies (4-1) to advance to the championship round.
In the semifinals, held on Sunday, April 9, Mid-Fairfield held off a determined Culver Academy team from Indiana, 3-2, to advance to the championship game the following day.
Against Team Wisconsin in the finals, Mid-Fairfield jumped out to a 1-0 lead on LeSueur’s goal at 6:40 in the first period. VanBelle assisted on the next goal of the game, as Mid-Fairfield took a 2-0 lead in the second period.
Team Wisconsin responded with a three-straight goals, including the go-ahead tally at 6:26 in the third period.
LeSueur countered with the equalizer for Mid-Fairfield on a power-play goal just over two minutes later, as the teams skated to a 3-3 tie.
After 60 minutes of intense, championship-level hockey, the teams played a sudden-victory, overtime period to determine the national champion.
In the extra session, the teams burned off nearly 16 minutes of action before VanBelle ended the tournament at 15:57, pumping in a doorstep rebound shot to win the National Championship for Mid-Fairfield.
Gloves, sticks, and helmets littered the ice as the 2017 U-18 Tier I USA Hockey National Champion Mid-Fairfield squad mobbed VanBelle against the boards in celebration.
Following the Monday afternoon heroics, the team, composed of 20 players from seven different prep schools, dispersed back to their respective schools. The Brunswick trio drove back to Connecticut with members of their respective families and returned to class on Tuesday.
To watch USA Hockey’s video scoring recap of the game, click here