Looking at Oakland Park’s Bryson Sylvester, one would never think he is a goaltender on a championship youth hockey team.
Standing barely 4 feet tall, the 9-year-old on the Leafs team in the Squirt Division of the Panthers Amateur Hockey Association (PAHA) is used to defying the odds.
Born with mild to moderate hearing loss, Sylvester wears hearing aids, but that doesn’t stop him from being a fierce competitor.
“Bryson is the best,” said Leafs’ coach Robert Gallagher, whose team (15-1-1-1) rallied from a 2-0 deficit to achieve a 3-2 victory over the Coyotes in the recent championship game at the Florida Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs. “It was such a joy and pleasure to come to the rink and see him always with a smile on his face.”
Sylvester, a third-grader at Tropical Elementary School in Plantation, was stellar in the net as he turned away 21 shots.
“I didn’t even know he was a goaltender,” Gallagher said. “One day he shows up at practice with goalie stuff. … He was in net and kick-saving everything. He was a natural.”
Sylvester, who also plays baseball, football, basketball and soccer, has only been a netminder on the ice for two years.
“Making a big save is awesome,” Sylvester said. “I like playing goalie. My hearing aids help me so I can hear better. My teammates come over and talk to me. They help me out.”
Leafs’ defender Christopher Fason said it was fun playing with Sylvester this season.
“He is a really good goalie,” said Fason, 10. “It doesn’t matter about your size. It just matters how good you are and how much effort you put into it.”
Fason, a fifth-grader at Country Hills Elementary School in Coral Springs, was thrilled that he could enjoy the title with his brother, Kamari, who also plays on the team.
“Winning this is really big,” Christopher Fason said. “I have won championships a couple of times, but this was my brother’s first time, and I am really happy for him. We were really excited to be on the same team.”
The Coyotes entered the championship game as a clear underdog with a 7-8-1 record and having dropped their previous two games to the Leafs, 5-3 and 5-2.
After a scoreless first period, the Coyotes (7-9-1) struck twice within a five-minute span in the second period to take a 2-0 lead. Jason Beebe scored off an assist by Lucas Nelson, and Austin Baker scored an unassisted goal to put the pressure on the first-place Leafs.
“I think the best part was getting to the championship,” said Baker, 8, a third-grader at Eagle Ridge Elementary School in Coral Springs. “I Iike all of the events that happen in a game, and scoring in the championship was a lot of fun, too.”
From there, the Leafs’ Justin Rosenthal took over the game offensively with three unanswered goals, including the game-winner with just 31 second left. It was the second consecutive playoff hat trick for the youngster. Rosenthal, who totaled 27 goals this season, had never reached the championship game in his four years playing the sport.
After cutting the deficit to 2-1 late in the second period off a feed from Christopher Fason, Rosenthal tied it up midway through the third period and iced the outcome with time winding down in the game.
After scoring the winning goal, the third-grader at Country Hills Elementary School celebrated with his teammates.
“Everyone was piling on me, said Rosenthal, smiling.
The Leafs opened the season on a nine-game win streak and closed out the campaign on a six-game run.
“This is icing on the cake,” said Gallagher, a first-year coach in the PAHA program. “I tried to teach them the most important thing was team spirit. Their tenacity was what enabled us to win these games.”
Coyote twins Jason and Christopher Beebe, 9, have been playing hockey since age 6. Jason Beebe said it was a disappointing loss.
“We worked hard to make it to the final,” Jason Beebe said. “To make it to the championship game was a really big thing. Even though we lost, it felt good to try to win the title.”
Christopher Beebe nearly scored with four minutes left on a slapper from the right side in traffic, but Sylvester turned the shot away.
Gary Curreri can be reached at SportsCom5@aol.com.