The Pittsburgh Penguins Elite were gunning for a repeat championship in the Buffalo Winger Squirt Major Tournament, but the Pens ended up on the short end of a 1-0 score against Hamilton Huskies (Ontario) in the Championship Game on Aug. 24.
This heavyweight title bout’s lone score came in the second period on a breakaway by Florian Xhekaj of Hamilton, with a pass from Carson McMaster. The game featured two of the top teams in the U.S. and Ontario, as the Pens came in after finishing last year ranked 13th and Hamilton sixth.
Few figured it would be a one-goal game after the Penguins flexed their muscles with a 6-0 blow-out of Hamilton in pre-playoff games for HH’s lone loss. Hamilton coach Chris Argent had to change things up for the championship game as his team scored early and then played steady defensive hockey for the win.
Hamilton nearly did not reach the championship game as it had to outlast Valley Forge Minutemen, 3-2, in overtime in the semi-finals. The Minutemen jumped on top and stayed there much of the game, until Hamilton tied the score in the third period with Xhekaj scoring on a pass from Justin Dezoete.
Then it was Xhekaj breaking away in three-on-three overtime play for the winning goal, assisted by Liam Ferney.
The Minutemen men had lost their first two games, 1-0 to nationally 12-ranked Buffalo Regals (which made the semi-finals) and 4-2 to 10th-ranked Rochester Grizzlies. MM then beat Cambridge Hawks (Ontario, Canada), 4-2, and really pulled a surprise, upsetting Penguins, 4-3, to send the Minutemen into the playoffs.
Of the 16 games played in the three-day tournament, only four had more than a two-goal difference. Pens’ coach Ray Conway said, “Thanks to Chris Mancuso of Buffalo for organizing the Winger Tournament. The competition was excellent! The final 1-0 loss to the Hamilton Huskies was a hard-skating, close checking contest.”
Leading scorer in the tourney for Pens was Matthew DiMarsico with two goals and five assists for seven points. Brody Simko led the team with five goals. Trey Gallo led Pens defensemen with three goals, and goal-tenders Gavin Wohlmacher and Levi McCrea had one shutout and a single-goal game, yielding 15 goals in six games.