For the second straight year, some local hockey players are returning home as national champions.

The Maine Moose 18U youth hockey team won the USA Hockey 18U Tier II 2A title with a 3-2 victory over the New Hampshire Avalanche in Lansing, Michigan, on Monday.

A handful of players on the team were part of a national champion 16U Moose team last year.

“It’s special,” Moose coach Jeff Ross said. “We got a lot of kids on the team that won last year at the 16 level, we got a few kids on the team that lost in the semis last year at the 18 level with me, and a couple kids that haven’t really got a chance to experience this before. It’s special all around.”

Local players on this year’s team are Jeromey Rancourt, Cole Ouellette, Cody Doyon and Sam Story from Lewiston, Auburn’s Gavin Bates and Ryan Raby, Monmouth’s Thomas Arps and Jay’s Esa Maki.

Bates put the Moose on top 1-0 with a power-play goal in the second period, with Doyon providing the secondary assist, before the Avalanche answered for a 1-1 tie heading into the third period.

Rancourt scored a shorthanded goal early in the third to make it 2-1.

“We were playing in our zone and Cole poked the puck away from the kid, went to go ice it or something, and I just reached behind me and grabbed it. Went on a 2-on-1 with Cody Doyon and the D took him, so I just took a shot and it went in,” Rancourt said. “It feels pretty good to score in a national championship game, but even better that we won.”

The Avalanche knotted the game up again a six minutes later, but Buxton native Tanner McClure answered 27 seconds later for the Moose.

“They had scored a few minutes after I had scored. And then we went down, Cole actually chipped it past two guys, I went in front, got the puck, went down, the kid laid down and I hit it off I think the kid’s shoulder, and Tanner had just come through and chipped it over the goalie’s shoulder, and that was the game-winner for us,” Rancourt said.

The final minutes were tense for the Moose, and the final seconds even more so. Goalie Derek Fournier, from Bangor, made a 2-on-0 save with two seconds left to preserve the victory.

“Two seconds left and just makes a Derek Fournier save,” Rancourt said. “It’s something that he’s always done, something flashy at the end, coming through.”

“It was definitely a battle. It was the most difficult game we had in the tournament for sure, and the kids responded,” Ross said. “Getting near the end there like that, these kids just know how to win, and they proved that today.”

The Moose got to the championship game after going 3-0 in pool play — with resounding wins over the Chesterfield (Missouri) Falcons, DYHA Jr. Sun Devils of Tempe, Arizona, and the Alaska Wolves — then knocking off Fort Wayne (Indiana) AWP Elite in the semifinals by an 11-2 score.

“I got to be honest with you, I was quite nervous, especially going into the semifinal game,” Ross said. “We watched them play and they looked like a quality team. We got a few good breaks early on and put the game away pretty early.

“The first game (against Chesterfield) was tough. The scores don’t reflect it. But our third game, the last in the pool play, Alaska cut it to 4-3, and right after that we responded, scored to go up 5-3 and then kind of got rolling from there. It was a tight game there for a little while.”

The Moose out-scored their opponents, 34-9, during their five-game tournament run. Ouellette led the team with 14 points on six goals and eight assists. Doyon added nine points (five goals, four assists), Rancourt had eight (two goals, six assists), and Bates scored four goals and two assists. Maki picked up two wins in net, finishing with a 2.35 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.

“It’s a great group of kids, and they just love playing together. They were focused at the task at hand, and they played their games, got in the hotel and made sure they were ready for the next one,” Ross said. “For some of these kids, it’s their last time getting to wear the Moose jersey in a game.

“These kids have put in a lot of work over their career to get to this point, and to have it pay off again, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”

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