Kade Smigaj and line mates celebrate during Saturday's 8-6 championship win over the Penguins.
Teams that play against older and more experienced competition are expected to struggle. When the next year comes around, those teams are expected to improve.
Team Wisconsin took that conventional wisdom to an extreme during the 2019 Bantam Elite League Major season.
After going 1-11 in 2018 and being unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs, Wisconsin took home the ultimate hardware on Saturday afternoon, holding off the Penguins for an 8-6 win in the BEL Major championship game in St. Louis Park.
"Last year, I sort of expected it, being so young," Wisconsin head coach Brian Rafalski said after the game, referring to the lumps his team took last August. "I knew we'd have a lot of players returning and I felt like we had a good chance to win this coming in."
Braydon Beahm netted a hat-trick in the win for Team Wisconsin, with Alex Carrillo, Matthew Rafalski, Kade Smigaj, Even Hunter, and Caden Schmirler all chipping in single goals.
Carter Krenke scored twice in the loss for the Penguins. Harper Bentz, Jack Strobel, Ty Tuccitto, and Eli Miller each scored once.
Harper Bentz scores for the Penguins in Saturday's loss.
Braydon Beahm tallied a hat-trick in the win for Team Wisconsin.
Team Wisconsin concluded the BEL Major season on a seven-game winning streak, relying on systems the players knew by heart and confidence in the framework built by Rafalski.
"They bought in," Rafalski said. "We've got some players that want to move on and play at the next level, so they're putting their effort in."
One of the players is sure to be forward Quinn Finley, who quietly racked up 16 goals and 35 points in 15 games. Finley totaled three goals and seven assists during the playoffs, including a pair of helpers in Saturday's finale. For his efforts, Finley was named Most Valuable Player of the Bantam Elite League.
"We knew we had to make some tape-to-tape passes (today), and we just kept finding the back of the net," Finley said in a postgame interview.
For Rafalski, the BEL title is a concrete example of the team's progress but is only a sign of things the program hopes to come.
"The Bantam Elite League is nice, it's a very good event, and we're appreciative that we're able to have a team participate in it," Rafalski said. "But at the end of the day, my job is to get these guys to their goals, so it's good to see them taking steps towards that."
With 16 goals and 35 points in 15 games, Quinn Finley of Team Wisconsin was selected as BEL Major MVP.