It’s East vs. West, the ultimate showdown, set for Monday evening at the International Skating Center of Connecticut.
The defending Tier-3 Junior National Champion North Iowa Bulls from the NA3HL will take on the Boston Junior Bruins from the USPHL-Premier for this year’s bragging rights.
“The Junior Bruins are very composed, very skilled, very efficient,” said Bulls general manager and head coach Todd Sanden. “You can’t ask your guys to play a perfect game, but we have to be really good tomorrow to stay in that game and have a chance of winning it.”
Both the Bulls and the Junior Bruins went undefeated into the final game, set for 5 p.m. on Monday. In pool play, the Junior Bruins beat the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (5-3), the Helena Bighorns (6-0) and the Marquette Royales (11-1).
In the first semifinal of April 6, the Junior Bruins defeated the wild card winner Springfield Jr. Pics, 6-0.
The North Iowa Bulls defeated the Florida Jr. Blades (5-0), the Dells Ducks (5-1) and the Boston Bandits (11-2). They went up against the No. 3 seed Northern Cyclones in the second semifinal of the day and won, 5-1.
“I have to give the Cyclones credit,” said Sanden, who brought back at least a dozen players from last year’s National Champion. “They put us in some situations we were not really comfortable with. They outshot us in two of the three periods, and they really beat us to a lot of pucks.”
Sanden knows full well that he’s going up against a truly stacked Junior Bruins team, with eight Division 1 commitments lining its roster. A testament to their depth is that their leading scorer (and second in the tournament going into the final) is noncommitted Alex Brink, with nine points in four games.
The Junior Bruins have two others in the top five of scoring for the tournament – Quinnipiac recruit Bryan Lemos and Mercyhurst recruit Alex Todd, each with seven points.
It is, however, a North Iowa Bulls player that stands atop the scoring leaderboard. Latvian import Rihards Mareinis, a NA3HL First Team All-Star, has seven goals and 11 points in just four games.
“Mareinis and [NA3HL MVP] Matt Kroska, our captain, have been outstanding. That whole line of Mareinis-Kroska-Tim Santopoalo have carried our team,” said Sanden. “They’re the steam that drives our engine.”
Kroska has eight points, good for third on the tournament scoring leaderboard.
The Junior Bruins’ top goaltender, Quinnipiac recruit Sean Lawrence, has played in three of the four games thus far for Boston. He has given up just three goals in three games. Fellow Boston goalie Brian McGrath gave up one goal on 32 shots against the Marquette Royales.
Chris Amsden has only let in two goals in the three games he’s played, pitching the shutout against the Florida Jr. Blades. Jordan Moore gave up two goals on 33 shots against the Boston Bandits.
The Bulls also have another weapon on defense in NA3HL Defenseman of the Year Ron Lindgren.
“Ronnie is as solid as anybody out there, very composed,” said Sanden. “We’re pretty solid all around.”