The Maine Moose U16 boys hockey team repped for the state from March 31 to April 4 at this year’s USA Hockey Youth National Championships in Wayne, N.J. – and they won the whole shebang. That’s right, the Moose went 6-0 in the tournament, defeating the Armstrong Arrows of Pennsylvania 7-4 in Monday morning’s title bout.
The Moose are comprised of skaters from across Maine – from Houlton to Lewiston and beyond – but feature two SMAA standouts, Tanner McClure of Bonny Eagle and Joe Grant of South Portland. McClure, in fact, scored two of the Moose’s seven goals in Monday’s Final.
This group of Moose have been to the National tournament twice before, first as U14s, when they lost in the quarterfinals to the Chesterfield Falcons of Missouri. “We were beating [them] in that game at one point, but gave up the lead,” McClure recalled. “They ended up winning the whole tournament that year. The loss for us was extremely heartbreaking! “
The Moose tried their hand the following year – last year – as a U16 team, but a young one, one made up almost exclusively of “99s,” players born in 1999.
“We were all 99s playing in a tournament of 98s,” said Moose head coach Ben Gray, looking back. “That one year makes a difference.”
“We didn’t come out to play from the start,” said McClure of the Moose’s second go-round, “and ended up not even advancing to the single elimination rounds. Once again, we were eliminated by the team that won the whole tournament, South Dakota – and we were beating them at one point in that game as well.”
This year, however, the boys returned looking stronger than ever. They had matured, learned from their mistakes and picked up some new talent. Moreover, they were familiar with some of the other competition at the tournament, not least because they’d encountered a team or two earlier in the season.
“One of the leagues we’re in,” said head coach Ben Gray, “comprises 15 states. So, our first game of the tournament was a team we played back in August, the Delaware Ducks, we played them in New York at a tournament.”
“When we got down to New Jersey we had a practice, like every year,” said McClure, “but just had fun and got the nerves out. From the first puck drop, we were determined – and were fortunate enough to get a rematch with South Dakota. We came out strong and ended up winning 4-1, which was sweet revenge but a hard-fought win.”
“We had to play South Dakota in our round robin,” said Gray. “We got some revenge on them, and they got knocked out the next day.”
In the Finals, the Moose faced off optimistically with the Arrows: Whereas Maine had beaten the Alaska Oilers 2-1 in the semis, Armstrong had fallen to them, 7-2.
“I knew we were up there a ways,” said Gray of the seeding, “but Alaska was probably the favorite team. [Armstrong] had a couple nice runs in the semis to upend a couple other teams to make it to the championship. It was impressive to see them there, and we were a little worried about that fact.”
McClure ably recounted the tale of the win.
“The Arrows came out hard and strong,” he said. “The game was back and forth and scoreless until I scored to put us on the board with not much time left in the first. A shot from the point from Nick Bisson that was blocked and sitting in the slot is what I took a whack at after being tied up.”
The Moose took a slim advantage into the first intermission.
“We ended the first leading 1-0,” says McClure, “but knowing we needed another one quick to shut down the Arrows. We scored early in the second before the Arrows answered, making it 2-1. It soon became 3-1 us, but we knew that the next one was big.”
Those goals belonged to Joe Bisson and Matt Jolicoeur, and the team’s next ended up belonging to McClure, his second.
“A line change came when defenseman Gavin Bates took the puck down low in the offensive zone,” he said, “and as he circled the back of the net, I jumped onto the ice, tapped my stick for a pass before putting the puck top right over the goalie’s shoulder.”
From there, the Moose built.
“People often say that a three-goal lead is the most dangerous in hockey, but we kept going,” said McClure, “eventually making it 7-1 with goals from Tyler Hall, Josh Malone and Jeromey Rancourt.”
Armstrong simply had no answer Maine’s overpowering attack.
“The Arrows found life late in the third, but it was too late,” said McClure. “The final score may be deceiving – they were a heck of a team and their goalie was amazing, facing almost 60 shots.”
The Maine Moose pose with their awards and championship banner following their 7-4 defeat of the Armstrong Arrows in Monday morning’s Tier-II U16 Youth Hockey National Final.