skip navigation

Orland Park Vikings U16 Claim Club’s First-Ever National Championship

By Ross Forman, 04/08/24, 4:00PM CDT


Since day one of the season last August, the drive for the Orland Park Vikings’ U16 boys’ team was simple: Skate in April.

They set the goal and every game and every practice was motivated around what the team had to do to skate in the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U 3A National Championship, held in Farmers Branch, Texas.

“That was our inspiration and everything we did, good and bad, led to the question: will this help us play in April,” said Vikings head coach Nick Pollos.

The team ultimately lost the Illinois state championship game but grabbed an at-large bid to nationals.

They did much more than just play.

The Vikings defeated the North Jersey Kings (NJ) 5-2 on Sunday, April 7 for the title – and the first national championship in Vikings club history.

“We felt good going into the championship game. We thought we matched up well with them,” Pollos said. “It was a really tight, close game. Both teams have a lot of speed and skill. We were fortunate to (get) a lead early, have strong goaltending and our defense played great.”

Both teams skated into the championship game undefeated. Orland Park had scored 12 goals and allowed just five. North Jersey dominated with 33 goals while allowing 12. The Vikings hadn’t scored more than three goals in any of their five games. The Kings hadn’t scored fewer than five.

But it was the Viking who struck early. David Kundrat scored 4:33 into the game on an assist from Connor Kennedy, and Orland Park led 1-0 after the first period.

The Vikings pushed it to 3-0 in the second on tallies from Logan Skocaj and Adam Ackerson.

“Getting that early lead settled them down and gave them a little breathing room,” Pollos said.

“They possessed the puck a little better than we did (in the second), and we had a few turnovers on zone entry … the Kings have a lot of speed and are really good in the transition,” Pollos said. “We were really fortunate that the end of the second period came when it did. It allowed us to re-group, re-focus, come back on track and create some momentum for the third.”

With a 3-1 lead to start the third, the Vikings made it 4-1 on the first shirt as Mitchell Gawel scored, assisted by Max Degen.

The Kings cut the lead to 4-2, but Degen iced the win in the final seconds with a powerplay empty-net goal, assisted by Drake Augusta.

“There has never been a better example of a team win than what it was for us,” Pollos said. “We rotated goalies all seasons, rolled four (offensive) lines for most of the tournament, plus six defensemen. Our third and fourth lines were on the ice during the last two minutes of one-goal games.

“In fact, our first goal of the game was by our fourth line. You get a goal from the fourth line in the national championship game, you have a good opportunity to win.”

Nolan Sanderson was in goal for the Vikings, facing 29 shots in 51 minutes.

“I cannot thank everyone in Illinois, particularly the greater Chicagoland area, for their support (during the nationals, with) text messages, emails and calls from (opposing) clubs, players, etc. This really showed what the hockey community in Illinois is all about. It meant a lot to me and the program overall,” said Pollos, in his 13th year as the Vikings hockey director and 31st year overall coaching.

He had close to 200 unread text messages from the tournament, including one from a college coach whom he hadn’t talked to in 17 years, but the fellow coach watched the series on He received well-wishes from former players and even grandparents of former players he coached.

“There really was some great hockey camaraderie from our area,” Pollos said.