The U16 AAA Thunder hockey team out of the IceForum in Duluth took its first step toward a national championship over the weekend.
The team, coached by former Gwinnett Gladiators captain Paul Flache and ranked No. 9 in the nation, swept a best-of-three series against the Atlanta Fire from the Cooler in Alpharetta to become Georgia's representative at the Southeast district championships.
The Thunder beat the Fire 5-1 on Saturday morning in Duluth and advanced on the back of a 6-0 win later that night at the Cooler. Both games were tight in the first period before the Thunder broke things open.
In Game 1, they were outshooting the Fire 25-3, but only up 3-1 after two periods. They closed it out though with a strong finish in the third on goals by Mitch Fossier, his second of the game, and Phillip Zbell.
The shot disparity was even greater in Game 2, but it took until the second period for the Thunder to see the results of that pressure on the scoreboard.
Leading just 1-0 as the game's midway point approached, the Thunder exploded for four goals in under five minutes.
It started with Andrew Kluge going hard to the net and banging home a rebound just sitting in the crease with 10:34 left in the second period.
Defenseman Tyler Tate made it 3-0 with 6:57 to go on a power-play. Tate's stick snapped in half after he teed off on a slap shot from the blue line, but still buried the puck in the back of the net.
Austin Beaulieu set up Killian Gray for a 4-0 lead 36 seconds later. Beaulieu was behind the net and flipped a nifty backhand feed to Gray who was crashing the net.
The team's leading scorer, Fossier, capped the offensive outburst just over a minute later. Fossier pulled a tight rebound out of the crease with his backhand and shoveled the forehand shot back in for a 5-0 lead.
Logan Orem, who scored the game's first goal, made it 6-0 with a shot from the top of the circle 6 -1/2 minutes into the third period. Goalie Joseph Cruz picked up the shutout win.
The Thunder move on to play the representatives from Florida, the Carolinas and D.C. at districts in two weeks in Huntsville, Ala. The tournament is a round-robin format with the top two teams then playing in the finals. The winner earns a berth at the national championships in Pittsburgh. This is the premier level of amateur youth hockey in the U.S.