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Team National Survives Chaotic Final Minute, Wins NCDC All-Star Game

By Matt LaRochelle and Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com, 01/20/20, 10:15PM EST

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Team National's Niemo finds hat trick; Gale saves 25-of-25 in net

Despite a last-minute surge by Team American, the National All-Star Team went home with a 5-4 victory at the 2020 NCDC All-Star Game, held on Monday at Merrimack College’s Lawler Rink.

The NCDC All-Star Game is one of three games that make up All-Star Monday for the USPHL, with games held at the 18U and 16U levels.

With under a half-minute remaining, Team American’s Andrew Kurapov (Twin City Thunder) and Alex Mozian (Jersey Hitmen) scored in a span of seven seconds to make it a one-goal game.  With 11 seconds remaining, enough time for an equalizer-goal, the Team National defense held back Team American’s final push to protect their lead and secure the win.

The game started off somewhat quiet for an All-Star Game, with both teams feeling each other out, looking for areas to capitalize and playing defensive hockey. Team National would break the ice with 13 seconds remaining in the first period, when Nicholas Niemo (Islanders Hockey Club) scored from the left circle on one knee. Credited with the primary assist was another Islander, Connor Gatto, who recovered the loose puck in the opposite circle and dished it right to Niemo.

Niemo picked up his second point of the game with an assist on Ryan Lovetts (Boston Junior Bruins; Dartmouth College commit) goal at the 8:53 mark of the second period. Lovett patiently skated across the high slot, finding an opening in the right circle for the shot and score to extend Team National’s lead, 2-0. 

That snapped Team American into action, with Twin City’s Christian Blomquist breaking the shutout at the 13:25 mark. Sticking to the right lane with possession of the puck, Blomquist challenged the defender upon entering the attacking zone and gave himself the necessary room to go top-shelf from the slot. 

The final minute of the second period saw its share of intensity as both teams traded goals before the break. Daniel Ebrahim (Jersey Hitmen) knotted the game for the American All-Stars, 2-2, with exactly one minute remaining. From their own end, fellow Hitmen Liam McLinskey (Quinnipiac University commit) found Ebrahim undefended in the neutral zone, passing it to him for the breakaway opportunity and scoring on a backhanded shot deep in the slot. 

Niemo would help Team National regain the lead just 30 seconds later with his second goal of the day to make it, 3-2. Gatto recovered the rebound at the crease following a save by American goalie Henry Graham (P.A.L. Jr. Islanders), sliding the puck to Niemo for a one-timer that was saved by the diving netminder. The puck bounced right back to Niemo, who dragged it to the left side and found the back of the net on a sharp angle. 

Team National picked up where they left off in the third period, when Jin Lee (Connecticut Jr. Rangers) restored their two-goal lead, 4-2, at the 13:40 mark. From the left boards, Gatto collected the loose puck and sent it up to the neutral zone for Lee to enter the left circle and get the wrist shot off for the goal.

Niemo would complete his All-Star Game hat trick with 51 seconds remaining, hitting the empty-net goal to put Team National up 5-2.  The goal would go on to be the game-winner for the National All-Stars. 

Though down by three goals, the American All-Stars would not go out without a fight.  With 18 seconds remaining, Kurapov got the comeback attempt underway with a goal to trim the deficit, 5-3. Team National netminder, Tate Brandon (Connecticut Jr. Rangers), made the initial save following a shot by Team American’s Patrick Keegan (Jersey Hitmen), but the puck found Kurapov in the slot for the redirect into the net.

Immediately following Kurapov’s goal, Mozian would make it a one-goal game, 5-4, at the 19:49 mark. Artem Buzoverya (P.A.L. Jr. Islanders) won the ensuing faceoff for Team American, allowing Josh Waters (Jersey Hitmen) to collect the puck in the left lane and push into the offensive zone. With some fancy stickwork, Waters bested the Team National defenseman before getting off the centering pass to Mozian, who one-timed the deflection into the net.

Between the pipes, Team National’s Thomas Gale (Boston Junior Bruins; Holy Cross commit) played a pivotal role in their victory, stopping all 25 shots he faced in the game’s first half.