A fine showing: Marquette Under-14 Junior Wildcats/American Legion Post 44 team plays well at national tournament vs. powerhouses

The Marquette Junior Wildcats/American Legion Post 44 youth hockey team recently returned from their trip to the national USA Hockey Tier II 14-Under tournament held in Amherst, N.Y., just missing advancing to the quarterfinal round. In the front row from left are Finn Scott, Jacob Spagnolo, Tyler Matulewicz, Easton Dellies, Cooper Andresen and Jacob Geller. Middle row from left, assistant coaches Karl Shunk and Matt Matulewicz, Mason Hartz, Caleb Aho, Joey Provost, Taylor Manis, Ethan Jensen, Wyatt Shunk and assistant coaches Jim Pentecost and Doug Anderson. Top row from left, head coach Jon Nebel, McCarty McKie, Riley Nevenhoven, Evan Mattila, Jameson Sandstrom, Dylan Matulewicz and assistant coaches Mike McKie and Brian Nebel. (Photo courtesy Greg Scott)

MARQUETTE — The American Legion Post 44 youth hockey team of Marquette made it all the way to the final period of its final game before having to bow out at the USA Hockey Tier II 14-Under national tournament that finished last weekend.

Known as the Marquette Junior Wildcats at the event held in Amherst, New York, the local team played three games with a finish that wasn’t quite enough to advance from the original 16-team field into the eight-team quarterfinal round.

“We won our opening game and lost in overtime in the second game before we lost the final one,” Legion/Wildcats veteran coach Jon Nebel said. “We have one more win, and we get to move on.”

Both teams that Marquette lost to advanced to the quarterfinals before each bowed out as the tourney was made up of four four-team pools, the top two squads from each advancing.

The national title was captured by the Minnesota Walleye, a team quite unlike the Post 44 squad.

The Marquette Junior Wildcats’ Jameson Sandstrom, left, works in front of his goalie Finn Scott during a USA Hockey Tier II 14-Under national tournament game against the Mid-State Mustangs on April 5 in Amherst, N.Y. (Photo courtesy Greg Scott)

“Our team is made up of 18 players, all from the Marquette area and all attend the same school system,” said Nebel, who won his 1,600th game at all levels of youth hockey when this team won the state title several weeks earlier in Marquette.

“Some of these other teams, like the Minnesota one, are regional teams where each player may come from a different town.

“But the accomplishment of just playing with these really good teams makes this special.”

That and the 53-14-6 record that the Legion team put together over a season that stretched back to last fall.

This season was also special for Nebel as when he made a count, this was his ninth time coaching a Marquette Junior Hockey team to a national tournament, but the first time since 2019.

The Marquette Junior Wildcats’ Riley Nevenhoven, left, works in front of his goalie Finn Scott during a USA Hockey Tier II 14-Under national tournament game against the Texas Tigers on April 4 in Amherst, N.Y. (Photo courtesy Greg Scott)

The Junior Wildcats opened on April 3 with a 4-1 victory over Cheektowaga, New York, a town near Buffalo.

With goalie Jacob Geller making 17 saves, Marquette spotted Cheektowaga a 1-0 lead after one period before storming back with the tying goal in the second period and three more, including the game winner, in the third.

Cooper Andresen opened the Wildcats’ national tourney scoring with an unassisted tally with 4:25 left in the second period.

Then Joey Provost scored the game winner shorthanded with 11:12 to go, getting assists from Jameson Sandstrom and Evan Mattila.

Insurance came via a pair of late goals scored just 52 seconds apart.

Tyler Matulewicz made it 3-1 with 3:12 remaining as he was assisted by Caleb Aho and Wyatt Shunk, then Mason Hartz pumped in an unassisted tally with 2:20 left.

Marquette finished with a 28-18 shots on goal advantage.

On April 4, the Texas Tigers of the Dallas-Fort Worth area posted a 2-1 OT win over the Legionnaires.

Their opponent again opened the scoring vs. the Junior Wildcats, getting a goal near the midpoint of the first period.

Marquette remained behind until 4:11 was left in regulation when Hartz made it two goals in two days with a tally assisted by Easton Dellies.

Then the Texas team needed just 25 seconds of 3-on-3 skating in overtime to score the game winner.

“We play 5-on-5 in our overtimes, and we just got caught with one of our players trying to make a poke-check and missing to set up Texas’ 3-on-2 for the winning goal,” said Nebel.

The Tigers held a narrow 29-27 shots edge as the Wildcats’ other goalie, Finn Scott, made 27 stops.

Marquette’s final game was played on April 5, a 5-2 loss to the Mid-State Mustangs of Pennsylvania.

“We started really well in this game, the first four or five minutes we controlled the play and had some scoring opportunities,” Nebel said. “And then on their first shot of the game, about five minutes in, it went in, and their second one, too.”

The Wildcats finished with a 28-18 shots advantage as Geller and Scott combined to work in the Post 44 net.

After Mid-State established a 3-0 lead after one period, Marquette started clawing back with a power-play goal about 3 1/2 minutes into the second period scored by Provost, who had the shorthander in the opening game two days earlier. He was assisted by Aho and Shunk.

After Mid-State scored goals about 2 1/2 minutes apart early in the third, the Junior Wildcats notched their final goal shorthanded on a shot by Hartz and assisted by Mattila and Shunk with 8:41 left.

Marquette tried everything it could to get closer, even having a 6-on-3 advantage when a couple penalties were called on Mid-State and Nebel pulled his goalie.

“We just couldn’t get one past their goalie,” Nebel said of netminder Ryan Lombardo. “He had the ‘C’ (captain’s initial) on his jersey, and you don’t see that very often with a goalie, so I knew he had to be really good.”

Lombardo finished the event with a 4-1 record and had a .910 saves percentage despite allowing 12 goals.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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