Youth Hockey

Midwest Blackbirds win shootout for Ice Blast Bantam title

2014-02-07T17:00:00Z 2014-02-08T03:12:06Z Midwest Blackbirds win shootout for Ice Blast Bantam titleJohn Burbridge, (219) 933-3371

It was a shootout that almost didn't happen.

And if the Midwest Blackbirds were just a little lucky on a couple of occasions, they could have avoided it.

"They scored on us with 0.8 left in regulation to tie it," Blackbirds Bantam 2 coach Tom Philbin said of the Green Division championship game against the West Dundee-based Leafs Hockey Club at the St. Louis Ice Blast Tournament, held during the Martin Luther King Day weekend.

"Then in overtime, we hit the crossbar with one of our shots."

But when the shootout beckoned, the Blackbirds had the cool hand. Midwest goalie Nick Van Sipma stopped all three Leafs' attempts — the third was the game-winner after Ben Santos and Tyler Gorczynski both made good on their opportunities.

The Blackbirds, based at the Midwest Training and Ice Center, went 2-2 during the three-day tournament. More-experienced Blue Division teams made up half of the six-team pool-play field, and played for their own title in the championship round.

"We're not a travel team ... rather an in-house team," Philbin said. "For many of our guys, this is their first year playing organized hockey."

The Blackbirds won their first game, 5-2, over the St. Louis Rockets. Their second game was against the St. Peters (Mo.) Spirit, which would end up placing runner-up to the Rockford Hockey Club for the Blue title.

"Going into the final period, we were tied at 1-1," Philbin said. "They managed to finally pull away [Rockford won 4-1], but we were competitive the whole way."

Against the Leafs, the Blackbirds were down 2-1 going into the third period before rallying to take a 3-2 lead with about four minutes left in regulation, only to be tied in the last second.

The Blackbirds Bantam 2 team is comprised of players ages 13-15. It is one of two Midwest in-house Bantam teams that plays other in-house teams primarily from Illinois in Northwest Hockey League action.

"Even though we're called 'Bantam 2', it's only to differentiate us from the other in-house team," Philbin said. "It's not upper-A or lower-B. Both teams were picked one player at a time after an evaluation."

Midwest also has a Bantam travel team.

"Just because we're an in-house team doesn't mean we take things easy," Philbin said. "(Assistant coach) Tom Stefaniak and I really push these guys hard. We hold them accountable and we expect the best out of them.

"We're proud of how hard they played down there. They were faced with some adversity and they handled it well."

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