Centennial’s run in the USA Hockey High School National Championship came to an end March 23 as the Cougars lost a quarterfinal game 5-2 to No. 1 seed Santa Margarita, Calif. in Coral Gables, Fla.
The Cougars, a No. 8 seed in the field, were forced to play without several key members of their team Saturday due to injury and suspension.
Goalie Tom Nichols was taken off the ice in Centennial’s overtime loss to Fort Dorchester, S.C. on March 22 with what has been diagnosed as a level two concussion. He missed the quarterfinal game while Derek Lyle, Clay Wood, and coach Mark Layne were each suspended – Lyle and Wood for game-misconduct penalties.
Layne was unable to be on the bench due to the Cougars’ 19 penalties on Friday night. A USA Hockey rule states a coach will be suspended for one game if his team commits 15-or-more penalties in a single contest.
“That’s rough and unfortunate,” Layne said. “But I have great assistant coaches that stepped up and did a heck of a job. I was able to talk to the boys prior to the game.”
Without Nichols, freshman Cam Napier played admirably despite limited playing time this season – making 46 saves.
Layne was proud of how his team responded to the adversity.
“We were a little shorthanded but some guys - that usually get limited ice time – played a lot,” the coach said. “I was proud of the way they reacted to the adversity and stepped up.”
Centennial had a 2-1 record in pool play leading up to the single-elimination portion of the tournament. Their undefeated run ended Friday as the Cougars lost in a shootout 7-6 to Fort Dorchester.
That contest featured some of the most physical play of the tournament and Centennial’s 19 penalty minutes.
“That was two Southern teams that were trying to make a name for themselves and show we know how to play hockey in the South,” Layne described the game.
Despite the loss, Centennial finished atop their division in pool play with seven points and advanced to the next round.
Centennial could never manage a multi-goal lead Friday as their opponent would equalize the score seemingly moments after each Cougar goal.
Dakota Davis, Devin Pierce, Bennett Jones, and Tyler Hardin each had goals for Centennial while Jake Lyle scored twice.
Friday’s game was Centennial’s closest of the tournament as they won their first two games by a combined score of 12-4.
They beat Uintah, Utah 6-0 Thursday and Omaha, Nebraska 6-4 one day prior.
The win over Omaha was not as close as the score indicates as the Cougars held a 6-1 advantage in the third period before their opponents scored three quick goals to close the margin.
Centennial finished the tournament in eighth place – the best national finish for a Tennessee high school team.
“It was amazing to be down there with that level of hockey – 20 teams from across the USA,” said Layne. “Having a chance for a national title was a great experience for a bunch of young men that play for the love of the game and pretty exciting for a coach as well.”