Tiger girls’ hockey starts strong vs. North Country, but fall in the end

MIDDLEBURY — For much of Friday’s game against visiting North Country, it looked like the Middlebury Union High School girls’ hockey team would earn what has been an elusive win against a top-four Division II team.
The fifth-place Tigers have routinely outshot the teams above them in the standings, but have come up on the short end on the scoreboard.
Early in Friday’s contest, they took it to the second-place Falcons, outshooting them in the scoreless first period, 10-1, and then earning the lead on junior Rachel Howlett’s tip-in of classmate Paige Viens’ slapper at 6:44 of the second.
But although the Tigers continued to control the territory, they did not maintain the crispness of their passing. And North Country kept plugging, and despite the Tigers’ 28-9 advantage in shots on goal, it was the 11-2-1 Falcons who skated away with a 3-1 victory.
North Country tied the game late in the second period, and then scored two goals in 12 seconds in the third.
MUHS co-coach Tim Howlett remains optimistic — there was a lot to like on Friday and in Wednesday’s 6-0 home win over U-32. But like so many coaches, Howlett and co-coaches Matt Brush and Derek Bartlett are reminding their 7-6 team it has to play a full 45 minutes.
“When we’re on, and everyone is contributing, as you saw in the better part of this game, we can be a force to be reckoned with,” Howlett said. “But we turn off the competitive switch for a minute, and two goals in the net. We’re standing there watching them, and bad things happen. So I hope … they learn from it.”
Certainly, the coaches were happy with the MUHS effort on Wednesday, when despite being shorthanded they breezed past U-32 as senior reserve goalie Ali Sheldrick worked an 11-save shutout. Six Tigers scored: Viens, Nora McLaughlin, Sara Boe, Taylor Becker, Emma Best and Angela Carone, while Boe, Best and Carone picked up assists.
And the Tigers started out on fire on Friday, forcing NCU goalie Mikaella Doran to make 10 of her 27 saves in the first period, notably on a Timi Carone deflection of a Lauren Bartlett shot from the left point and a Viens shot from the right-wing circle as a power-play expired.
Doran probably did her best work early in the second period, when she denied Angela Carone and Timi Carone from the slot in the first minute, at the two-minute mark flashed her right pad to stone a Best breakaway, and stopped a series of Timi Carone shots from the left-wing circle.
The Tigers broke through at 6:44. They won a faceoff in the left-wing circle directly back to Viens at the center point, and she shot toward the right side of the net. There, Howlett tipped it solidly inside the post.
Afterward, Coach Howlett agreed the Tigers’ play dropped off a bit after that score, even if they still carried most of the play and defenders Becker, Best, Bartlett and Viens continued to shut down most of the Falcon rushes.
“You’re either going to … and move forward and keep pounding, or you’re going to be a little satisfied,” he said. “If you get a little satisfied, it’s not going to work, and you let in three unanswered goals the second half of the game.”
The Falcons equalized at 12:43 of the second. Emily Doty shot from the right point, and Tiger goalie Baily Ryan — who earlier had made a terrific save on a Whitney Bernier breakaway — stopped that shot and Crystal Moss’s first rebound bid. But Moss stuffed home the second rebound, and the Falcons had tied the game on their fourth shot on net.
They took the lead at 4:53 of the third when the Tigers failed to clear cleanly. Emilie Paul picked up the puck and sent Bernier into the left-wing circle, and she wristed home a 10-footer.
NCU got its pad goal off the ensuing faceoff on a two-on-one break after a failed challenge at the blue line. Bernier crossed from the right-wing circle to Moss at the left post, and she one-timed it in; Ryan had no chance.
The Tigers had a couple great opportunities. Doran made the save of the game, sliding to her left to deny Howlett on a cross-crease pass from Boe. Doran also stopped McLaughlin and Best from the slot as the Falcons held on for the two-goal win.
Coach Howlett said the Tigers have the ability to start converting their opportunities.
“We just have to be a little bit nastier in front of the net,” he said.
And Howlett believes the Tigers will get a lift once they do break through against a top team.   
“We talk about game like this. There are four teams above us in the standings, and of our last six games, five of those are against teams that are above us,” he said. “We’ve got to learn that we can beat teams like that, and I think one of those victories will certainly go a long way for our confidence and help us as we get closer to the postseason.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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