Tiger girls’ hockey wins own tournament for first time

MIDDLEBURY — Last week at the Memorial Sports Center, the Middlebury Union High School girls’ hockey team made a little history — the Tigers for the first time won their own holiday tournament.
Maybe more importantly, the Tigers won in style while evening their record at 2-2 after opening their season with two competitive road losses against other potential Division II title contenders.
In defeating U-32 on Friday, 3-0, and Stowe on Saturday, 2-0, the Tigers collectively outshot their competition by 97-20, showed strong skating and puck movement, defended well, and got shutout goaltending from first-year starter Baily Ryan, a sophomore.
Co-captain Taylor Becker, a defender who is one of only two seniors on the team (the other is back-up goalie Ali Sheldrick) said the Tigers are happy to finally break through at their own holiday event.
“It’s definitely a really big deal for us,” Becker said. “As a team we got our first win in this tournament … and both shutouts for Baily.”
But the Tigers are just as excited about their longer-range prospects. Becker said the team is deeper and more balanced this year with the continued improvement of the team’s juniors and sophomores, and the addition of talented players like freshmen Emma Best and Lauren Bartlett.
“Everyone can skate. Everyone has a lot of skill with the puck,” Becker said. “We’re moving the puck a lot better. We’re definitely using everybody on the ice, which is key in this game.”
Co-coach Tim Howlett, who this winter is leading the program with MUHS boys’ coach Derek Bartlett and former boys’ coach Matt Brush, said the new two-forward, three-back system the team is using is also helping — it is the approach pioneered by the Middlebury College programs.
The system first makes sure there are defenders in place, but also allows defenders at the point to be aggressive in the offensive end.
“Our system is starting to work real well,” Howlett said. “They’re adapting well, regrouping in the neutral zone (and) attacking. They’re executing what they’re assigned to do very well.”
Becker agreed the approach is starting to pay off — against Stowe, only two skaters broke in alone on Ryan, and the points consistently moved up to disrupt Raider clearing attempts.
“We were a little hesitant about it at first. It’s different,” Becker said. “But we’ve definitely gotten used to it, and it’s working really well for us.”
As well as everything was clicking Saturday vs. Stowe (2-3), the Tigers faced a major obstacle: Raider goalie Danielle Mayo, who kept her team in the game with 48 saves.
Fourteen of those came in the scoreless first period, including breakaway stops on Bartlett and sophomore Harper Smith; three saves on Becker and a couple on Best, including one on a point-blank rebound; one on sophomore Angela Carone from the slot; and one on junior Nora McLaughlin’s rebound bid on Smith’s breakaway.
Ryan made two vital stops at the other end, one dangerous backhand by Stowe forward Rikki Haab from the left side, and on a Kelli Grimes breakaway after a rare Tiger turnover on the blue line.
The Tigers broke through at 5:31 of the second on a five-on-three power play. Best set up Bartlett at the center point, and she skated into the slot and beat a screened Mayo into the bottom left corner.
MUHS made it 2-0 at 10:12 with a nice passing play. Best, behind the net, found Bartlett cutting in from the right point. Bartlett relayed to Smith off the left post, and Smith one-timed it home.
The Tigers also got more good work from Ryan in the period. She stopped a Haab breakaway early on to keep the game scoreless and denied a shot from the bottom of the left-wing circle in the late going. On that play Becker came in behind Ryan and kicked away the rebound.
The Tigers also got solid defensive work throughout from junior co-captain Timi Carone, Best, junior Paige Viens, Bartlett, and sophomore Sophia Peluso.
“Those backs are moving the puck well, they’re clearing out any rebounds, really creating good things down low for us as far as moving the puck out,” Howlett said.
In Friday’s win over U-32 (1-4), the Tigers took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Sara Boe (who was also a constant threat on Saturday) at 6:40 of the first, assisted by Angela Carone. They made it 2-0 later in the period on a Smith strike assisted by Bartlett and Becker. Best capped the scoring in the second period, from Boe and Viens, and Ryan stopped 13 shots for the shutout.
If there is anything the Tigers will be working on it will be converting more of their chances. In their losses, they outshot one team, and in the other the shots were even.
“We’ve got to get traffic in front,” Howlett said. “We just have to generate traffic and be hungry in front of the net … We’ll get better at that for sure, but that’s a constant theme.”
But Howlett and the other coaches have seen a lot to like.
“We work a lot on passing and it’s starting to show. We’re starting to see the dividends, the tape-to-tape passes in there,” he said. “They’re just finding each other on the ice, and the flow, the chemistry, it’s just all starting to build together nicely.”
And Becker said the Tigers’ attitude will also work in their favor.
“The team chemistry is wonderful. It’s definitely coming together really, really well,” she said. “Everyone is really, really nice in the locker room. We really get along together really well.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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