Tiger girls’ hockey shuts down Comets

MIDDLEBURY — The first time the Middlebury Union High School girls’ hockey team played BFA-St. Albans this season, the Tigers allowed 25 shots and six goals in a road loss.
That was on Dec. 16. On Saturday, the Tigers put the clamps on the Comets, allowing just seven shots in a 4-2 victory that appears to have clinched second place in Division I for MUHS, which improved to 13-3-2 with the win vs. third-place BFA (10-8-1, with four losses outside Vermont).
“We have amazing defenders,” said junior tri-captain Julia Carone, who scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period. “I think tonight we knew we had to be defensively minded, and it paid off.”
Coach Matt Brush said the strong work carried over from the third period of another important win, 3-1 at Rutland (13-4-1) on Wednesday, when the Tigers scored twice in the final 15 minutes to snap a 1-1 tie.
“We’ve made an effort in the last couple of weeks to get back to some of our basic defensive positioning, play our system the way we’re supposed to, and those efforts were shown tonight,” Brush said.
There remains some uncertainty about the standings, which are not correct on the Vermont Principals’ Association website. Only league games count toward D-I playoff seeds, but the Tigers appear to have locked down the No. 2 spot, with Monday’s home game vs. Northfield not counting toward the standings because the teams have already played twice. The VPA will announce seeds on Thursday.
Defending champion Essex looks like the No. 1 seed with two league losses heading into a game at BFA on Wednesday. The Tigers have three league losses and a tie, while BFA already has four losses and Rutland has four losses and a tie.
Brush will wait until the seeds are official, and it is possible that teams might have earned more points for away wins.
“Until they announce it, I’ll reserve any judgment,” Brush said. “But we’ll at least have a home quarterfinal.”
Regardless, Saturday’s win meant a lot to MUHS: No member of the Tigers had ever defeated the Comets.
“Since we’ve beaten them, it’s time for playoffs,” Carone said. “Now since we have the energy of beating them, we can beat anyone.”
On Wednesday, MUHS goalie Katie Billings made 28 saves to backbone the Tigers’ 3-1 win at Rutland (13-5-1). The Raiders’ Megan Hamilton opened the scoring in the second period before Andi Boe, from Monroe Cromis, made it 1-1 entering the third. In the third, Carone set up both the game-winner by Cromis and Boe’s insurance goal, with Satchel McLaughlin also assisting Cromis’ goal. Goalie Kelsey Eddy made 13 saves for the Raiders.
On Saturday, the Tigers earned more territory than the Comets in the first period, but had only one good scoring chance, about six minutes in. BFA goalie Gabbi Metz (11 saves) made the initial stop on Boe, and then denied a Cromis backhander from the slot on the rebound.
Tiger backs Tajah Marsden, Abby Gleason, McLaughlin and Molly Wetmore were solid from start to finish on Saturday, except for about two minutes late in the first period, when they found it difficult to clear their zone against the BFA forecheck. Goalie Rowan Hendy (five saves) twice covered the puck, but one turnover was out of her reach, and Peyton Dukas backhanded it in from about eight feet way to give BFA the lead at 13:11.
In the second, the Tigers regrouped and allowed just one shot on goal even with BFA being awarded a power play. Finally, their edge in play paid off at 13:22. Boe fed Cromis behind the net, and Cromis circled from left to right before sending the puck back to Boe, who one-timed the puck inside the left post.
Then the Tigers took charge early in the third. Carone’s goal started with a strong diagonal rush by Marsden from center ice to the bottom of the left circle. Metz stopped that bid, but the Tigers stormed the net. Cromis fired, and Metz denied her, but Carone was next in line and shoved the puck home at 1:00.
Just 1:35 later, it was 3-1. Marsden broke up a play on the right side of the BFA blue line and sent Helen Anderson down the middle. Anderson used a defender as a screen and picked the near side with a 20-foot wrister.
Less than a minute later, the Tigers went on a power play, and Boe’s shot from the right circle banked in off a defender in the slot at 11:02. The Tigers had scored three times on five shots in 3:58 to take a 4-1 lead after scoring once in the first 30 minutes on 10 shots. BFA’s Elena Brigham added the final score on solo rush at 10:18.
Carone said the Tigers re-emphasized net presence in between the second and third periods.
“We’ve been talking about crashing the net, just crashing and crashing, and screening the goalies,” Carone said. “And I think having all that pressure in front of the net really benefitted us.”
Brush said the Tigers fulfilled the game plan — play defense, and cash in on their chances.
 “Sometimes, when you play defensively, you give up on some other things,” Brush said. “But you have to pick your moments. And I thought we picked our moments well at times tonight. When we had opportunities, we took advantage of them.”

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