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Jr. Ice Bears roar into USA Hockey youth championship game

IMG_5986Alcoa High School senior Aaron Liner checks an opponent into the boards during a game with the KAHA junior Ice Bears earlier this season. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

The puck drops at 8 a.m.

Lucas Despins lets it rip.

Lucas Despins lets it rip.

It’s an early start, but they’re so ready for this, 18U junior Ice Bears captain Aaron Liner said.

The Bears started fast and finished strong to rout the Utah Golden Eagles, 8-4, in a USA Hockey Youth National Championships semifinal Saturday afternoon in Wayne, N.J.

The Knoxville Amateur Hockey Association team, the Tennessee state champions, take on the Idaho Jr. Steelheads in the title game Sunday morning.

The game will be streamed live at Fasthockey.com.

After a 2-1 loss to the Bozeman (Mont.) Ice Dogs in the final round of pool play on Friday, the Bears (45-5-3) opened Saturday’s semifinal with a four-goal barrage.

The loss to Bozeman had a lot to do with it, junior Ice Bears coach Robert Despins said.

“We didn’t play all that well,” he said. “We had a big meeting with the team that night and talked about what we needed to do for everybody to play better.

“The team just gave everything they had (Saturday) and everybody played well.”

Junior Ice Bears goalie Joshua Quarles guards his net.

Junior Ice Bears goalie Joshua Quarles guards his net.

Gage and Lucas Despins, two parts of a set of triplets, and Felix Bjurstrom each struck for first period goals and a quick 3-0 lead. Michael Thompson, off a Liner assist, the Alcoa High School senior’s second assist of the breakaway, popped for a fourth goal 37 seconds into period two.

“We knew it was a big game,” Liner said, “and we were not ready to go home. We weren’t ready to pack it in and go home.”

The Golden Eagles, taking full advantage of Knoxville penalty minutes, cut the deficit to 4-3 to start the third and decisive frame. Gage Despins was all over it in a flash, colleting a Bjurstrom assist and powering it home at 43 seconds into the third.

“The first shift back out there, we got a goal,” Gage Despins said.

Jake Fountaine and Liner blasted the gap open to 7-3 with only five minutes gone. The junior Ice Bears didn’t rest easy, though, Lucas Despins said, until Fountaine stuck goal eight in the Utah net with six minutes left.

“We had a four-goal lead before and they came back,” Lucas Despins said.

Keeping the foot on the gas Sunday could net a national championship.

“We’ve just got to outwork the other team, like we did today,” Gage Despins said.

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