CougarHawks, injuries too much for MUHS girls’ hockey squad

MIDDLEBURY — The shorthanded Middlebury Union High School girls’ hockey team hung with the cooperative Mount Mansfield-Champlain Valley team for most of two periods on Thursday, but the visiting CougarHawks pulled away for a 4-0 victory.
The game came in the first round of the Tigers’ annual Fletcher “Buster” Brush Holiday Classic. MUHS took on Spaulding on Friday as the tournament wrapped up after the early holiday deadline for the Independent. Middlebury won the consolation game vs. Spaulding, 4-0; and Rutland beat MMU/CVU in the championship game, 3-2.
The Tigers fell to 1-3 after Thursday’s loss with their third straight loss, a streak in which they have been outscored by 16-0. But the setback to the 1-2-1 CougarHawks could not be called a surprise: Three of Tigers’ best players watched from the bench, all out with injuries.
The Tigers knew in September the team’s leading point-getter from last season, Andi Boe, would miss the season with a knee injury, and that two starters from last winter, when MUHS won 16 games, had opted for prep school.
But then one of the team’s best defenders, Satchel McLaughlin, went down with an injury in the preseason, and a top forward, senior Helen Anderson, was hurt in a loss at BFA-St. Albans last week. Both are four-year starters.
Coach Matt Brush said the team hopes McLaughlin and Anderson can return at some point this season, but it won’t be right away, and in the meantime there’s “no easy button” to push to fix the problem.
“It’s hard to adjust to those injuries. We don’t have a lot of depth to the roster, so it puts a lot of burden on a few kids to carry the torch,” Brush said. “But that’s the reality of the situation.”
For sure, younger skaters and veteran role players alike are getting extended minutes that could help them develop their skills, but Brush said that “baptism by fire” is not necessarily always ideal.
“It’s a double-edged sword, learning on the job without losing confidence if things aren’t going well. So we would like to bring those players along at a different pace,” Brush said. “But they’re battling as hard as they can. We just don’t have a lot of energy for three periods.”
Certainly the effort was there on Thursday, when the Tigers and freshman goalie Abby Hodsden (36 saves) did not allow the CougarHawks to score until 12:55 was gone in the second period.
“They empty the tank every time. That’s all you can ask, a lot of hard work,” Brush said.
Seniors Abby Gleason and Raven Payne and freshman Audrey Schoor started in the back, and seniors Justine Smith saw plenty of time, with senior Polly Heminway playing both in the back and up front. The primary pairs up front were senior Tulley Hescock and sophomore Taylor Moulton, sophomores Isabella Pistilli and Anna McIntosh, and senior Georgina Mraz and sophomore Meredith Kimble. Sophomore Devyn Pratt was ill and did not play, sapping the Tigers’ depth further.
MMU/CVU outshot the Tigers, 13-3, in the opening period. Hodsden made big saves on Lydia Maitland, Katie Peck and Kiley McClure (on a breakaway with two minutes to go) to keep the game scoreless. Hescock created the best chances for the Tigers, early on with two-on-ones with Heminway and Gleason, and then late in the period she pounced on a loose puck on the slot and backhanded a shot on goal that CougarHawk goalie Joanna Wright deflected high.
The Tigers had a chance early in the second, but Wright stopped Kimble’s power-play bid from the slot.
For most of the second period Hodsden continued to make sound positional saves and alertly cover up loose pucks. Her work gave MUHS two good chances to take the lead, both courtesy of Gleason. At 8:40 Wright stopped Gleason from the slot, and at 3:20 a Payne pass sprung Gleason for a breakaway, but Wright (13 saves) blocked her close-range forehand bid.
Brush said things might have been different if that shot had found the net.
“It’s a momentum thing. Abby has a breakaway there with three minutes left in the second period, if we bury that one there and go up, 1-0, it’s a different feel, it’s a different game. All of a sudden tired legs get a little energy,” he said.
Instead, at 12:55 CougarHawk Jackie Ryan skated out of the left-wing corner and ripped a 15-footer into the top left corner, and her team led, 1-0. And as time wound down Hodsden denied a similar Ryan shot, but Maitland poked home the rebound in a scramble out front — a play that came after the Tigers had pressed and Wright denied Gleason again from the slot.
“Seventeen seconds left in the second period, giving up that goal after we had kept the puck in their end for an extended period of time, I think really hurt,” Brush said.
In the third the Tigers ran out of gas, launching only one shot after putting nine shots on goal in the second. MMU/CVU tacked on scores from Kayley Bushweller and Peck to create the final score. 
Brush said the Tigers will be looking to break through on the attack.
“We changed our forecheck tonight, and we had more offense tonight than we did last week against BFA,” he said. “We’ll keep changing the recipe until we find the combination that give us a little more offense.” 

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