When Pee Wee AAA Detroit Belle Tire was walking to the locker room, Sterling Cooke was getting all the glory.
“I love you Sterling,” shouted one fired up teammate.
“Sterling, you’re the man,” another added.
All the words thrown his way were well deserved. Just moments earlier, Cooke took a pass and peppered it toward the net for a game-winning goal with no time left on the clock for a 2-1 win over Grand Rapids Fox Motors.
“It was a quick-release shot from a defensive pass from behind the net (by Ryan Mast),” Cooke said with a huge smile.
Just 28 seconds before that goal, it was Grand Rapids that was frantically celebrating as they knotted up the game at 1-1 with a breakaway goal by Carson Finney. At that point almost everyone in McMorran felt like Grand Rapids was going to walk away with a tie against the No. 1-ranked Pee Wee team in the nation.
Thanks to strong goaltending by Detroit’s Kaidan Mbereko and Grand Rapids’ Gibson Homer, it took a while for the first goal to find its way into the net. Francesco Pinelli was the first to light the lamp, scoring for Detroit with 5:46 left in the game to end the dual shutout.
Despite the loss, Homer acted as a steel wall in front of the net all game in an impressive performance.
“Gibson Homer, we are pretty familiar with him,” Detroit head coach Ryan Barnes said. “He’s maybe one of the best goalies, if not the best goalie, you will run into in Pee Wee hockey.”
The Belle Tire penalty kill was also stout all afternoon, shutting down six Grand Rapids power plays. The most notable stop came at the end of the first period, when Grand Rapids had a 5-on-3 advantage for nearly a minute and a half that returned no goals.
“Usually your goalie is your best penalty killer, and he was for us,” Barnes said. “It’s not easy when you don’t see action for a few minutes at a time.”
While Belle Tire will move onto the knockout stage by building a quick 3-0 tournament record, Grand Rapids will end its Silver Stick run Saturday as it is 0-2-1. That can also certainly be seen as a deceiving record that does no justice for a solid defense that’s only allowed six goals all tournament.
“Our goaltending was outstanding, but at the same time we developed some chances for ourselves and just didn’t execute,” Grand Rapids co-head coach Mike Knuble said. “They executed at the last second. Our guys played their hearts out, but that’s sports. That’s the beauty of it. Somebody win and somebody loses.”