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MUHS girls’ hockey advances to Division 1 semifinal

MIDDLEBURY — The No. 2 Middlebury Union High School girls’ hockey team had little trouble in Friday night’s Division quarterfinal against hard-working, but overmatched, No. 7 Burlington-Colchester, outshooting the SeaLakers by 37-11 in a 5-0 victory.
Now it gets interesting.
On Monday, the 16-4-1 Tigers host No. 3 Rutland (15-4-2), while three-time defending champion and top-seeded Essex (16-3-2) hosts No. 4 BFA-St. Albans (14-7).
The Tigers tied and defeated Rutland in overtime this season. BFA came on strong late in the season and split two games with Essex.
Monday’s winners play at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the University of Vermont. Essex is seeking its fourth straight title, while BFA is the only other girls’ program to have won a girls’ D-I crown. But the Tigers defeated both teams late in the season, splitting the winter’s series with Essex and BFA.
And the Tigers have won eight times in nine games, including victories over each of the other teams in the semifinals.
“We’re starting to click,” said junior forward Andi Boe, who picked up two goals and an assist vs. the SeaLakers. “We feel like we’re playing well. We’re peaking at the right time.”
Boe acknowledged that even when the Tigers reached the semifinal round a year ago, when BFA upset them, they did not feel as positive about their chances. This season, the late surge has given them more belief, Boe said.
“We just came off of two really big wins, Essex and St. Albans, and we had some lineup changes beforehand,” Boe said. “I think we needed two big end-of-the season wins in order to prove to ourselves we could do it.”
The five-back defensive rotation of Abby Gleason, Satchel McLaughlin, Molly Wetmore, Raven Payne and Kate Donahue remained mostly unchanged, but Coaches Matt Brush and Derek Bartlett juggled things up front, creating groups of Julia Carone flanked by Tulley Hescock and Monroe Cromis, and Lexi Bartlett between Boe and Helen Anderson.
“We move people around pretty consistently the whole season until the last two or three weeks, and we found a lineup that seems to be pretty effective,” Brush said.
On Friday against Burlington/Colchester (BC) the Tigers earned a 15-3 edge in shots the first period, but took only a 1-0 lead about four minutes in. Carone circled the net clockwise to the right-wing dot and fed McLaughlin pinching in from the left point. McLaughlin found the upper left corner from the left circle.
Eleven minutes in, Tiger goalie Katie Billings (11 saves) turned aside BC’s Tatum Vachereau’s shot from the high slot, and late in the period Billings blocked two bids during a power-play scramble.
Billings also made seven of her saves in the second period, as Madison Chagnon, Olivia Maher and Megan Lehoullier all had chances. Her kick save on Maher with seconds to go in the period was a beauty, and after an earlier kick save Donahue skated through the crease and knocked away the rebound bid.
“Katie Billings was the difference there,” Brush said. “She made a couple of timely saves.”
BC goalie Jenna Blondin also did good work in the second period, stopping Cromis from the slot early in the period, denying Hescock back-to-back mid-period, and kicking away a Cromis tip from Donahue on a late power play.
But the Tigers still added two goals. Three minutes in Boe fed Donahue at the left post, and Blondin stopped her. But the rebound squirted across the crease and Hescock backhanded it in.
At 7:32 Carone’s relentless forecheck kept the puck in the zone, and Anderson fed Boe in the slot for a 12-foot one-timer, with Hescock picking up the second assist.
The Tigers’ strong skating and tireless effort paid off in the third with an 10-1 edge in shots and two more goals. At 5:18, Anderson sent the puck up to Boe, and she scored with a wrister from the right-wing circle. At 10:32, Gleason banged home a one-timer from the slot on a power play. Cromis set up the play, with Carone also assisting.
Brush said the Tigers played with energy and confidence.
“The last couple of games we had in the regular season vs. Essex and BFA certainly gave us some confidence,” he said. “We’re playing with a sense of urgency and it showed on the ice.”

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