High school hockey: Well worth the trip for Team Illinois
The seven-hour bus ride Monday afternoon from Pittsburgh was extra special for Team Illinois, which returned home with the championship trophy once again from the annual America's Showcase hockey tournament.
Team Illinois has won the prestigious 24-team national tournament four of the past five years, and in back-to-back years.
They defeated Team Pittsburgh 6-3 in the championship game, despite falling behind 3-1 early in the second period. But Illinois scored 5 unanswered, including 3 in the third period, to retain the title.
"We came out slow (in the championship game), but our skill and determination helped us take over," said Nicholas Christianson, a senior at Buffalo Grove High School who skated all four years for the co-op BG/H/W Stampede varsity, including the team's 2016 state championship season. "It meant a lot to me to go out with the championship. It was awesome getting to play with so many great players from different teams."
Christianson, 18, who lives in Arlington Heights and is a left-handed shooting forward, will attend Iowa in the fall, where he plans to major in finance.
"Our depth carried us through the tournament, and our goaltending was great," Christianson said.
With Pittsburgh leading 3-1, Ryan Kelly (co-op Glenbard) and Jacob Rott (Providence Catholic) each scored in two-minute span late in the second period to tie the game 3-3. Mathew Ernsting (Benet) and Rott each scored their second goals of the game in the third period, and Jake Vennetti (Providence) iced the title with a tally at 13:21.
Goalie Ryan Iaciancio (Providence) made 26 saves for the win.
"To score 6 goals in the championship game is a pretty good feat," said Illinois assistant coach Nick Iaciancio (Providence). "I think our kids are under-valued, to be honest. I think they can play with a lot of other (top players across the U.S.) I think people are going to have to start playing attention to (Illinois high school hockey players)."
Christianson had 1 goal and 1 assist in the team's 6-1 semifinal win over Team Florida. He also had an assist in a 4-1 win over Team Texas, and finished. He finished the Showcase with 1 goal and 4 assists, including the game-winning goal against Florida.
Rott and Vennetti each had 4 goals, 5 assists in the tournament, while Nicholas Feldman (Benet) led the team with a team-high 5 goals and 2 assists.
Rott was named the tournament MVP for the second year in a row.
"Ryan played great all tournament. He made a lot of big saves when we really needed him," Christianson said. "Rott scored some big goals."