One of the few blemishes for the Northstar Christian Academy 18U hockey team in the 2019-20 season was a 2-0 loss in the Dixon Cup final to Meijer AAA. One year later, the Knights fought through the six-game weekend to win the title that eluded them at the Comerica Center in Frisco, TX.
"Last year, we lost to a really good team," Northstar hockey director Rick Randazzo said. "To make it back there and win it as a third-year program is a huge accomplishment. I've received texts and calls from college and junior coaches around the country congratulating us. To make it through three round-robin games, quarterfinals, semifinals and the final, it's an accomplishment to play that hard for that many games."
The Knights took down the Philadelphia Little Flyers by a score of 4-3, but it didn't come without some nerves. The score was tied 3-3 at the end of regulation before Cody Croal buried a game-winner off a pass from Reese Laubach.
"I knew the goalie was going to come to me for the shot when I brought the puck in the zone," Croal said. "I tried to get the puck to Reese because he was wide open. It went off the defenseman's stick, and that's when Reese batted it out of the air to me for a little tap in."
The Flyers got on the board just under two minutes into the contest before Croal's linemate, Dylan Cook, tied the game midway through the first. Philadelphia regained the one-goal advantage in the final minutes of the first on a goal from Koby Howat.
Byron Hartley doubled the Flyer's lead midway through the second before Cook scored his second under a minute later. Cook would complete the hat-trick with 10 minutes left in the third before Croal's winner in overtime.
"We got all four goals, and it's pretty sweet to score a lot of goals," Croal said.
The Croal, Cook and Laubach line has been one of the top-producing units for the Knights this season, and it's starting to open some doors. Laubach committed to the University of Minnesota-Mankato earlier this month, while Croal is still considering options after Northstar.
"I've been getting some calls this year," Croal said. "This is what the plan was, along with growing in my faith. It's about being a better man and a better hockey player."
Winning a championship isn't how the Knights measure success. It's about how the players develop off the ice to prepare themselves for the next stage in life.
"Championships are awesome, and not every team gets the chance to celebrate them," Randazzo said. "We measure success on how far these kids have come and how they've battled and been able to stick together. Championships are an added benefit to that."
16U Knights take second
Northstar's successful weekend carried beyond the 18U team. The 16U Knights made it all the way to the championship round, including a semifinal shootout win over the Esmark Stars.
Nathan Huntington gave Northstar a 2-1 lead late in the second period, but Logan Scanlong tied the game for Esmark with just over three minutes left in regulation. After a scoreless overtime session, Huntington sent the Knights to the championship with a shootout goal.
"For both teams to make the finals is pretty incredible," Randazzo said. "The 16s team is a first-year organization, so this is a huge accomplishment. For this team to win in a shootout like that was just crazy. We are so proud of them."
Northstar fell in the championship game to the Florida Alliance. Alexandria's Brycen Berg and Bronson Hunt were the goal scorers for Northstar. Evan Edwards and Jake Richard combined for the five Florida goals.