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Atlantic District Wins Boys 17 National Festival Championship

By Justin Felisko, 07/01/24, 10:30PM EDT


District team-based tournament brings forth team pride at USA Hockey Player Development Camp

2024 Atlantic District Boys 17 National Festival Champions

AMHERST, N.Y. – Atlantic District goaltender Ryan Cameron jumped up from his crease and turned toward his screaming teammates on the bench at the Northtown Center at Amherst. Cameron then extended his arms wide into the air and motioned with his glove hand in celebration toward the sea of players rushing onto the ice to join him in jubilation.

Seconds earlier, Cameron had stopped Gavin Katz in the shootout to cement the Atlantic District the 2024 USA Hockey Boys 17 National Festival Championship with a victory over the Minnesota District.

“It is really cool,” Cameron said. “I don’t think really anyone expected us to do it. It is awesome to defy the odds.”

The 6-foot goalie used his entire frame to clog up the crease throughout the shootout, stopping 3-of-4 Minnesota attempts. Meanwhile, the Atlantic District was red hot and scored on three of its four attempts in the shootout.  

“Our guys made a bunch of good moves and scored a lot of good goals (in the shootout),” Cameron said. “I just tried to hold my own, make some saves and help us win.”

Mason Jenson gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead 1:55 into the final period when he fired one past Cameron on a partial breakaway.

However, the Atlantic District kept pressing, and Chase Jette tied the game at 1-1 with 5:38 to go in regulation when he took a feed from Nicholas Sykora and buried one past Cal Conway’s glove hand.

“It is awesome,” Jette, who also scored in the shootout, said. “We went into the week not knowing what group we had and to come out with the win was pretty special. Our big thing was to stay positive on the bench. We allowed that one goal and scoring the next one was huge. OT and the shootout, we were keeping up the positive energy and it worked out pretty well for us.”

Sykora was buzzing throughout the entire game, nearly connecting on a multitude of chances. He would not be denied once he got a chance in the shootout following a scoreless five-minute overtime period, setting the stage for Cameron to cement the win his final stop.

“I came in from the left and I tried to fake going with a backhand so I could get the goalie to slide right and then cut back, which led to him opening up and I was able to put it in,” Sykora said.

“It is a great feeling. Not a lot of people win this. I am going to cherish this moment forever.”

Three of the Atlantic District’s five wins at the Boys 17 National Festival came via a shootout.

USA Hockey revamped the Boys 17 National Festival into a District team-based tournament format last year, bringing back the heightened competition for the first time since 2004. This year’s Festival featured USA Hockey’s 12 districts and 216 of the top players of the 2007 birth year.

Tommy Davis, head coach of the Atlantic District and an assistant coach at Princeton University, grew up playing for the district, so the victory certainly was special for him on a personal level as well.

“The whole tournament should be proud,” Davis said. “The compete level in the last few days was amazing, like this was an unbelievable game. The goaltending on both sides was insane, so everybody should be proud. Everyone's been working hard. It could have gone either way for us or Minnesota.

“You're just proud of the kids all playing hard for their district or team and we were lucky enough to come out on top.”

The priority in Amherst, though, was still to improve and showcase the individual players participating, who were also competing to earn an invite to the 2024 Hlinka Gretzky Cup Camp on July 26-30 in St. Paul, Minnesota. All players continued to experience a competitive, age-specific environment with on-ice training (drills, small area games, competitions, etc.) and off-ice training (strength & conditioning, team building, mental skills, nutrition, classroom, etc.) that is a staple of all of USA Hockey’s Player Development Camps. The rosters in Amherst featured primarily players from the district, while teams had some at-large players who earned an opportunity to attend the camp as well. 

RELATED: Check out the 36 players selected for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup Camp

Jette, Sykora and Cameron were three Atlantic District players who earned an invite to the Hlinka Gretzky Cup Camp later this month.

Jette said he enjoyed the opportunity to meet other elite players from across the United States in Amherst at this week’s Player Development Camp while competing for his district.  

“Being able to become friends with people across the country (was a favorite part of camp),” Jette said. “Some of these guys I didn’t know at all. To be able to come here for a week and win a championship is pretty special.”

It has been a whirlwind couple of months for Cameron, Leon Chapkis and Joey Argentina.

The three Atlantic District players won the 2024 USA Hockey-Chipotle Youth Tier I 16U National Championship in Las Vegas with the Long Island Gulls less than three months ago.

Argentina had the privilege to be the first Atlantic District player to grab the Boys 17 National Festival championship trophy Monday afternoon in Amherst and hand it to his teammates.

“Winning just in general is fun,” he said. “Coming from the Gulls, we’re all competitive and we just love to win, especially for USA Hockey and to win for our district is pretty big. I'm just glad to do it with these types of guys.”

Cameron and Chapkis rotated all week in Amherst as part of the camp’s commitment to goaltending development. Every district’s goaltending duo each played half of every game.  

Chapkis was stout in the first half against Minnesota, stopping all 12 shots he faced before giving way to Cameron in the second half of the game.  Cameron finished with seven saves.

“It has been a really crazy year with a lot of championships,” Cameron said. “Each one gets better. It’s been awesome.”

Chapkis added, “Ryan is the best partner you could ask for. He's so supportive. We feed off each other. The boys did really great in front of me. They were battling. We held the puck. We held them in their zone and that helped out and we were blocking shots.

“The energy was high and there's a sense of pride when you're playing for your district.”

The three Gulls players who are from the Atlantic region, including their stout goaltending duo, were crucial pieces for the Atlantic District’s championship performance, Davis explained.

“I know those guys won a championship a couple of months ago and they're just winners,” Davis said. “Those guys from that organization really helped our team this week. The best part for us was those two goalies are really close, and they just rooted for each other and they do that all year with the Gulls. Honestly, it started with them. And the rest of the group bought in.”

Cameron, Jette and Chapkis will now shift their focus to the Hlinka Gretzky Cup Camp and the opportunity to earn a spot on the 2024 U.S. Under-18 Select Team.

The opportunity is something Cameron said he is not taking for granted.

It would be awesome and great to wear the red, white and blue,” Cameron concluded. “It is a dream that everyone has, so it would be really cool.”

BY THE NUMBERS: Sam Kappell (Central District) led all players at the Boys 17 National Festival with seven goals…Mason Moe (Minnesota District) had a tournament-high eight assists and tied with Sammy Smith (Central District) for the most points with 10…Mason Gudridge (Rocky Mountain District) led all goalies with 91 saves and Samuel Doyon-Cataquiz had the highest save percentage (.942).