MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School girls’ hockey team split two home games late last week, but the MUHS co-coaches may have been even happier with the Tigers’ effort in a Friday loss than in a Thursday win.
On Thursday, the 5-5 Tigers doubled up visiting Mount Mansfield, 8-4, in a game that had been postponed from the day before by a snowstorm. The Cougars dropped to 2-7.
Less than 24 hours later, the Tigers laced their skates up against defending Division II champion U-32. The Tigers lost to the 7-2 Raiders, 6-4, but not before cutting a three-goal deficit to one in the third period.
The Tigers also became only the second team this winter to score four times on U-32 — D-I Colchester was the other — and only the third team to score vs. them at all — U-32 had allowed only one goal in seven games since that opening setback.
Co-coach Tim Howlett had no complaints after Friday’s game, in which junior goalie Ashley Howlett stopped 31 shots, including a half-dozen breakaways.
“We’re very happy with how they played. They played as a team. They passed well. They saw the ice. They really battled hard against a team that is a very likely contender,” Howlett said. “I thought Ashley played a good game tonight, probably her best in a few, and our defense stepped up well. The offense was forechecking hard.”
Co-coach Wendy Leeds said the Tigers not only entered the game with little rest, but were also shorthanded. Freshman standout Olivia Foshay is lost for the season to an injury, and second-line center Elise Biette was ill last week. For example, the loss of Foshay means the team rotates just three defenders — senior Gen Beloin and juniors Heather Ploof and Laura Galenkamp, all of whom performed admirably on Friday.
“They’re really being challenged physically in terms of our short bench and in terms of our heavy game schedule this week, and we’ve been playing (with) three on D since the Rutland game, and that’s a lot to ask against a team like this,” Leeds said.
“And they’ve really had to dig deep, and we’re really pleased with what they’re showing us in terms of what they’re made of. We kind of knew it was there, but we hadn’t seen it much lately, and I think maybe this will help then get that belief back.”
It didn’t take long for the Tigers to record the second goal U-32 has surrendered in eight games. They won the opening faceoff and worked the puck deep. Leading scorer Maria Ploof won it behind the U-32 net and fed freshman Sara Boe out front. Boe picked the lower left corner, and MUHS led at 0:26. Taylor Becker picked up the second assist.
But the Raiders are deep and relentless. Despite Howlett’s 10 first-period saves, many on testing shots, they racked up the next three goals. Alicia Danyew stuffed a Jyneva Pickel rebound home, Stacy Woolaver cashed in a breakaway, and at 11:46 Pickel set up Katie Kreis on a two-on-none.
The Tigers fought back. Becker gave the puck to Boe, and she beat Raider goalie Ashley Vincent (13 saves) from the left wing circle to make it 3-2 at 14:01, and after the first period.
The Raiders pressured early in the second and scored at 1:12, when Emily Aylward tallied from Gabby Coletti. Howlett was busy in the first 10 minutes of the period, during which she racked up 11 of her saves, and it looked like the Tigers might be wearing down.
Instead, both Tiger lines — Boe at center and Maria Ploof and Becker on the wings on one, and rapidly improving freshman Paige Viens at center with junior Theresa Huestis and sophomores Nora McLaughlin and Sarah Buzzell rotating on the wings on the other — began forechecking better and creating chances, and the Raiders were on their heels more often.
Unfortunately for MUHS, they also got a goal against the grain of play — at 14:43 Pickel sent in Esther Peterson alone on Howlett to make it 5-2 after two periods.
The Tigers did not give up the fight. At 5:10, Becker pressured a defender, and Beloin picked it off at the center of the blue line. Her shot was not hard, but was screened and accurate and nestled inside the left post to make it 5-3.
At 9:31, the Tigers made it 5-4. Maria Ploof fought through a check in the right wing circle and shot on Vincent. Viens was there to tuck the rebound inside the far post.
But eight seconds later, Kreis won the faceoff and picked up her fourth assist, springing Kreis for a breakaway to restore the two-goal lead and wrap up the scoring.
On Thursday, the Tigers took a 4-1 first-period lead in their 8-4 victory over MMU. Maria Ploof scored unassisted seven seconds after the puck was dropped, the first of her four goals.
Two minutes later, Galenkamp made it 2-0 from the point off a behind-the-net feed from Viens. MMU answered on a Kristina Ushakova tally, but Ploof tacked on two more goals in the period. She sent the puck into the slot and was credited with the score when an MMU defender knocked into her goal, later added another unassisted goal.
MMU’s Rowan Hayes added the only score of the second period. MMU’s Alexis Kirby then cut the lead to one 33 seconds into the third period.
Viens restored the two-goal lead 90 seconds later, assisted by Boe. Six minutes in, Ploof scored from Becker. A Hayes strike at 9:21 made it 6-4, but Heather Ploof scored 30 seconds later on a backhand into the upper left corner. Boe tacked on the final score with three minutes left, with Beloin assisting.
After two games and two solid efforts in two nights, Howlett said he and Leeds had a simple message for the Tigers.
“We’ve got two days off before Missisquoi on Monday,” Howlett said. “We told them to get rest, sleep till noon.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.