Flying High: Long Island Gulls

Long Island Gulls Soar To 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 16U National Championship

 

The Long Island Gulls were flying high inside City National Arena as the 19 players on the program’s 16U team were belting the lyrics to Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” loud and proud inside their locker room.

The Gulls soared to the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 16U National Championship with a 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Jr. Kings.

Goaltender Ryan Cameron had tears in his eyes as he came out of the locker room following his team’s celebratory dance party. Cameron was sensational for the Gulls in the championship game with a 31-save shutout of the high-powered Jr. Kings. 

 “This is awesome,” Cameron said. “It is everything we have been dreaming of the past year, this is great.”

Cameron then paused to wipe some tears from his eyes. It was only a year ago that he was in net when he and some of his teammates were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey 15O National Championship. 

“Everyone just cares so much,” Cameron said. “Everyone was willing to put everything on the line to win. It is a special group of guys. After losing last year in the quarters, it was great to win it this year.”

The 5-foot-10-inch goaltender with an impressive wingspan was the true king of the Tier I 16U tournament. Cameron allowed only four goals on 123 shots in five games. 

Some of Cameron’s best work came in the first period of the title game, though, when the Jr. Kings outshot the Gulls, 12-2, and were dominating the pace of play. Stephen Grumley nearly gave the Kings a 1-0 lead with 4:03 to go in the first period, but Cameron made two back-to-back stops on Grumley from right in front of the net. 

“He is the backbone of our team,” forward Marko Lisica said. “We built a team around him. We know we will never lose a game because of him. That first period could have gotten really ugly real quick. 

“Ryan is a humble kid. He is one of the best humans I have ever met. When you have a kid like that in net, you just want to play for him.”

Dan Cassano, the Gulls assistant coach, said Long Island knew after the first period how fortunate they were to have Cameron defending their net. 

“He was unbelievable,” Cassano said. “We went in and said it during intermission. If it isn’t for him, we are down 3-0 after the first. He has been that way for two years.”

Lisica gave the Gulls a 1-0 lead 2:17 into the second period on a wraparound that snuck through Kyle Jones’ five-hole.

The Gulls made it 2-0 a few minutes later when Poul Andersen fired a blister from the left circle after the Gulls got a takeaway in their offensive zone. Joseph Argentina won a puck battle on the right boards and fed the puck to Dominick Oppedisano, who dished it to Andersen in the left circle. 

Lisica was also a member of the Gulls team that lost a year ago, and he explained this year’s group, which also featured some players who won the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 16U Championship, wanted to leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of a national title. 

“We said we weren’t going to go the easy way,” Lisica, who’s jersey was bloodied after he busted his nose open in the celebratory post-game dog pile photo, said. “We went through Caesars in the semis, not running from our problems. Los Angeles is a great team. We played them in the round robin and we knew it was going to be a battle.”

The Kings attempted to rally late in the third period, pulling goaltender Kyle Jones with 3:43 remaining in the game.

After every whistle, Cameron would take a sip from his orange water bottle, calmly tap the right post of the net with the knob of his goalie stick and get into position without a worry in the world.

Cameron channeled the same focus he had since he was 3 years old growing up in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, when his two older brothers, Matt and Michael, would force him to climb into goal for them. 

No matter how many times the Kings attempted to crash the net or fire a puck past him, Cameron stood tall. 

“You can’t get too high and can’t get too low,” Cameron said. “You have to stay level-minded and try not to get ahead of yourself. That was probably the hardest part. Playing hockey is the easy part. The mental part is hard. I have always kind of been that way. I just wanted to win so bad, so I was trying to not get ahead of myself. I was thinking about my own game and keeping the puck out of the net and just win the game.”

Ryan Cameron allowed only four goals on 123 shots in five games and finished nationals with a .967 save percentage.Ryan Cameron allowed only four goals on 123 shots in five games and finished nationals with a .967 save percentage.

 

Malachi McKinnon, one of the Gulls captains, was a force for Long Island all tournament. McKinnon’s nine points (3G, 6A) was second-most in the Tier I 16U tournament.   

McKinnon credits Cameron for helping him become a better player on the ice too.

“He stops everything. It just isn’t fair. I hate practicing against him,” McKinnon said with a laugh. “He is a brick wall and unbelievable. He is so good.”

Long Island head coach Vinny Smith was left nearly speechless, but he credited not only his goaltender, but the entire Gulls’ leadership group and locker room for bringing home the national title. 

“Malachi McKinnon is the best captain in youth hockey and was the reason why are team is galvanized. Leaders like him and Jared Petruso. They are truly selfless leaders.”

McKinnon also won a national title last year with the Gulls 16U team when he joined the team midway through the season, but he explained that to be a part of a championship team from start to finish was something special.

“This is unbelievable,” McKinnon concluded. “It feels so good to win. I was with the 16s last year. To do it again, and with this group, is very special.”

Issue: 
2024-04

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