EAST LANSING, Michigan, and BUXTON — The Maine Moose have won it all: They’re national champions, and Bonny Eagle’s own Tanner McClure gets the credit for the goal that won it all – the last goal of the last game. McClure struck midway through the third period of the tournament final, securing a 3-2 triumph over the New Hampshire Avalanche in a back-and-forth battle.

It’s McClure’s second consecutive national title as a Moose; he won last year as a member of the U16 club. This time around, he’s on the U18 outfit. Specifically, the Moose compete in the 2A Division of USA Hockey’s Youth Tier II.

The win closes McClure’s tenure with the team. “This is my last year with the Moose, and what a way to end it,” he says. “Four years has brought lots of memories and victories that I will cherish forever. Four state championships and national appearances … and back-to-back national championships, the past two years, was the perfect ending to the story.”

The first period of April 10th’s grand finale (held in East Lansing, Michigan) passed scorelessly; not until the second did either team finally figure out the opposition defense. When that happened, it was the Moose who struck first, Gavin Bates scoring a powerplay point vs. Avalanche netminder Padraig Capsalis on assists by McClure and Cody Doyon.

“In the final game it was 0-0 after the first period,” McClure says. “We started the second on the powerplay and 42 seconds in, Cody passed to me, then I passed it to Gavin, who finished it off.”

Just over eight minutes later, the Avalanche responded, Armando Roberto IV besting Moose keeper Derek Fournier on a feed from Tyler Chipman. 1-1.

Down a man to begin the third – Andrew Rodrigue pulled two minutes for holding just 42 seconds in – the Moose nevertheless managed to strike again: Jeremy Rancourt, breaking up the right side of the ice, beat Capsalis with a top-corner, glove-side wrister.

But soon enough, the Avalanche caught up again, Chipman tallying on a John McDonough assist for 2-2 at the 7:39 mark. Would the see-saw battle run into OT?

Not if McClure had anything to say about it. A mere 27 seconds after Chipman’s notch, McClure ended up in an odd-man blitz alongside Rancourt and Doyon, and – well, McClure tells it best himself:

“Rancourt, Doyon and I found ourselves on a three-on-two rush,” he says. “I had chipped the puck out of the zone and up to Rancourt and then followed up the play. Rancourt tried to pass over the diving defenseman to Doyon, but the puck deflected off the defenseman and onto my stick. The goalie was sliding to the right because of the original pass, but the deflection gave me just enough room over the blocker side.”

The Moose held on from there. McClure credits Fournier with the game’s true climactic effort: “Derek came up huge the rest of the game, especially in the last two seconds, when he sprawled out to save a 2-on-0 opportunity that New Hampshire had.” 

To reach the final, the Moose had to get past a variety of opponents from around the country. They began the tournament on April 6 with a 5-1 over the Chesterfield Falcons, out of Missouri. A day later, they battered the Junior Sun Devils, members of the Desert Youth Hockey Association in Arizona. On April 8, they topped the Alaska Wolves 8-3, and on the April 9, in the semifinals, they brushed aside the Fort Wayne AWP Elite 11-2.

McClure offers up some remarks on the Fort Wayne bout as well: 

“Our coaches prepared us mentally before the game,” he says, “telling us we better have come to play … and we did. Marc Thibodeau put us up 1-0 only 20 seconds into the game. We shut them down early, ending the first period 5-0. This was much needed, as they were a strong team who would have made us pay for letting them stick around.”

The Moose hail from across Maine, as McClure notes: “I’m the only kid from around here,” he says. “Most are from Lewiston or the Augusta area. Then we have a couple from the Bangor area and one from Houlton. We’re a mix from all over the state.

“Being on a team with so much skill, all of the best players in Maine, was something incredible and something I may never experience again, “McClure says. “I feel lucky to have been a part of this organization.”

Adam Birt can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME

The Maine Moose – including Bonny Eagle’s Tanner McClure (back row, third from the left) – pose with their championship banner, their individual medals and their No. 1 signs.