Jr. Steelheads win inaugural UHU National Championship

Jr. Steelheads win inaugural UHU National Championship »Play Video
The Idaho Junior Steelheads of Head Coach John Olver and Assistant Coach Kyle Grabowski won the first-ever United Hockey Union National Championship early Tuesday afternoon, by beating their WSHL-rival Bay Area Seals 5-1 at the Las Vegas Ice Center.

The victory was the Junior Steelheads’ 29th in a row. They finished the regular season with 16 straight wins, swept through the league playoffs to capture their third consecutive Thorne Cup, and were a perfect 5-0 in the national tournament involving the three leagues affiliated with the AAU.

The Junior Steelheads’ overall record included 57 wins, one loss in regulation time, and one in overtime.

In the last three days of the Nationals, they beat the Hartland Hounds of the Midwest Junior League twice and then the Seals for the UHU prize.

The Hounds had won 51 of their 52 league games, including playoffs, coming into the tournament. Their only loss was in overtime, in their 34th league game, but they were defeated in the national tournament first by the Seals and then by the Junior Steelheads twice to eliminate them.

Center Dominic Gabaj (Bratislava, Slovakia), the WSHL’s leading goal scorer on the season, opened the championship game scoring with a power play goal, the only goal of the first period.

Wes Starr (San Mateo, CA) of the Seals tied the game two minutes into the second period, but Junior Steelheads center Josh Haverstrom (Colorado Springs, CO) got what proved to be the game winning goal 14:41 into the period.

Gabaj, Kirk Van Arkel (also Colorado Springs), and Haverstrom added third period goals for the Junior Steelheads to cap the day’s scoring.

Stefan Brucato (also Colorado Springs), the league leader in assists, had three in the game, all in the third period.

Gabaj assisted on the two third period goals he didn’t score.

Haverstrom and team co-captain Tyler Kruenegel (Manteca, CA) each added an assist.

The other Junior Steelheads co-captain, Blake Mendenhall (Anchorage, AK), was stellar in goal for the Idaho team, making 21 saves on the 22 shots he faced.

Displaying the control of the puck and control of a game for which they will now be known nationally, the Junior Steelheads outshot the Seals 46-22 to secure a national title for owner Darrell Swigert in just their fourth year of existence.