"Play Like a Champion" signs were visible everywhere they went. While the exact origin of the slogan is unknown, Lou Holtz was reading a book about the history of the Notre Dame football program when he first saw a picture of the sign with the infamous slogan. Thinking it embodied what Notre Dame football was about, he had a duplicate sign made to hang above a stairwell where each player sees it before entering into the tunnel. Playing in the South Bend Cup in South Bend, Indiana, from Jan. 11-13, the Glenview Stars Squirt 1 team talked about what the sign meant and resolved that if they played their best each game, they too would be champions regardless of the score.
The Stars faced great competition in South Bend. In their first matchup against the Grand Rapids Griffins, they allowed a goal in the first shift of the game. Not allowing that to get them down, they fought back to win the game 3-2 to start the tournament in the right direction. Coach Nick Panos says, "No Win, No Swim," but with the win, the players rushed back to the hotel for some fun in the pool.
In their second game, the Stars faced one of the fastest teams of the year in the Macomb Mavericks. Unfortunately when the final buzzer sounded, the Stars came up short, posting a 2-1 loss. Even though the score wasn't in their favor, they played hard and recorded an exciting game.
The team headed back to the hotel for a quick nap and bite to eat before they returned to battle the Queen City Steam. Facing another fast-skating team, the Stars found themselves with their hands full. Carrying a 2-0 lead into the third period, the Stars kept the Steam deep in their zone for the remainder of the game to complete the 2-0 win.
After the game, the Lanscioni family had a special surprise for the team. He set up a private tour of the Notre Dame football training facility for the team and parents led by Reggie Brooks, former Notre Dame and Washington Redskins running back. The tour was amazing and gave the kids insight of what a motivated student-athlete can achieve with hard work and dedication.
The next morning saw the Stars in the semifinal game facing the Queen City Steam again. Knowing they had to get the lead early, the Stars peppered the team from Ohio until they were ahead 2-0 like their previous game. The Steam snuck in a goal in the second period to cut the lead in half, but the Stars called a time out to reset and then powered on to finish the game strong with a 5-2 win!
The Championship game was played at the new Compton Family Ice Arena on the University of Notre Dame campus. The Stars found themselves in another low-scoring battle, this time against the Lakeland Hawks. After killing several penalties, the Stars pulled ahead in the second period with a two-goal lead. The Stars defense was outstanding in this game and throughout tournament and the offense played both ends of the ice at a new level. Coach Panos said, "The strong backchecking from our offense definitely saved us some goals." Going into the third period, the Stars were tired and had to fight off a last-minute barrage from the Hawks. Goaltender Demitri Poulos, the eventual tournament MVP, came up huge for the Stars and kept the puck out of the net. Throughout the tournament, the Stars' two goalies, Owen Crouth and Poulos, combined to allow only six goals in five games. This put the Stars in a great position to win games.
As the clock wound down in the championship game, the Stars changed lines quickly and several players turned to the coaches and asked, "Did we play like champions?” Before Coach Panos and Coach Salemi could answer, the final buzzer sounded and the players were over the boards skating toward the pile up to celebrate their win.
But yes: "They Played Like Champions!
Special thanks to Nick Panos for the writeup.