Jr. Griffins win international hockey title

Adam Brayton celebrates a game-winning goal during the semifinals.

Adam Brayton celebrates a game-winning goal during the semifinals.

Three Rockford boys help team to win

by DAVID BRAYTON

The 51st annual International Silver Stick Tournament in Sarnia, Ontario, ended recently with a dramatic 3-2 overtime victory for the Grand Rapids Junior Griffins over the Valley East Rebels, the number-one-ranked team in Ontario Atom AA Hockey.

The Junior Griffins, made up of 10- and 11-year-olds throughout the greater Grand Rapids area, began this journey by winning the Midland Regional Silver Stick Tournament on December 20. That victory earned them an invitation to compete in the International Silver Stick Final, where 16 teams from throughout North America compete for the title.

In the preliminary round, the Junior Griffins defeated the Nashville Junior Predators and Dallas Penguins, losing one game to the Mississauga North Stars. Their record and goal differential had them seeded third where the top four teams advanced to the semifinals.

Brandon Schwandt’s aggressive play is critical to the Junior Griffins’ success.

Brandon Schwandt’s aggressive play is critical to the Junior Griffins’ success.

Once again they were matched up against Mississauga, but this time the results were different. Will Kortz of Grand Rapids opened up the scoring for the Junior Griffins in the first period with a beautiful wrap-around goal. Shortly thereafter, Mississauga tied the game.

The score was 1-1 until midway through the third period when the Junior Griffins’ Adam Brayton of Rockford drove home a rebound to make it 2-1. Brad Baysore of Grand Rapids continued the scoring for the Junior Griffins by rifling home a shot from the left face-off circle, making it a 3-1 game. Reed Lebster of Cascade finished it off, scoring with one second left in the game to lift the Junior Griffins to a 4-1 victory that put them into the championship game.

The finals matched the Junior Griffins up against the two-time defending champion Valley East Rebels from Northern Ontario. Just 16 seconds in, the Rebels scored and the mood throughout the arena was that the Rebels were on their way to another title.

Three minutes later, the Rebels made it 2-0 and things were looking bleak for the Junior Griffins. That changed late in the first period when Lebster fired home a shot from just over the blue line for the Junior Griffins’ first goal.

Nate Jones anchors a strong defensive group.

Nate Jones anchors a strong defensive group.

In the second period, Kortz maneuvered around two Valley East defenders and buried a shot over the goalie’s glove to tie the score, and the momentum shifted back in favor of the Junior Griffins. The third period ended in a 2-2 tie with the Junior Griffins, shutting down the Rebels with a strong defensive effort led by Nate Jones of Rockford and aggressive back-checking by Brandon Schwandt of Rockford.

A five-minute, sudden-death overtime followed, this time with only three skaters and their goalie. The overtime period started with the Junior Griffins on the Rebels’ heels, fighting off several offensive opportunities by Valley East. About two minutes in, Junior Griffins goalie Keegan Stenstrom of Caledonia made an incredible diving save that rebounded over to Kortz. Kortz saw Cole Stenstrom of Caledonia, and hit him with the outlet pass, where he fought off a Valley East defender most of the way down the ice. With 2:51 left in overtime, Stenstrom found the back of the net for the Junior Griffins to win the International Silver Stick Atom AA title, 3-2.

In addition to the championship, the Junior Griffins were awarded the Bob LeClair Memorial Trophy. This trophy is given to the team that that displays the honorable qualities of good discipline, attitude, ability and conduct, as well as all-around good sportsmanship throughout the Silver Stick Finals Tournament. The team is coached by Jeff Thiessen.

“This just goes to show the kids that there is nothing they can’t accomplish when they work hard and put forth their best effort,” commented Thiessen. “They not only earned it; they deserve it!”

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