Girls’ hockey ties first-place Highlanders
MIDDLEBURY — Tuesday’s battle of the top two girls’ hockey teams in Vermont’s Division II left the question of which team is better unsettled, as Middlebury Union High School and visiting Harwood skated to a 1-1 tie.
The 7-5-1 Tigers probably possessed the puck more, but the 7-3-1 Highlanders were more aggressive in the offensive zone and outshot MUHS, 34-31.
Both goalies were outstanding. The Tigers’ Abby Hodsden stopped 33 shots, and Harwood’s Kaylee Thayer denied 30 Tiger bids.
Although a couple of teams could catch the top two in D-II, it looks like based on the quality of these teams’ play they are likely to remain on top of the tier and qualify for the D-I playoffs under the rules of the girls’ hockey postseason.
Most importantly, said Coach Matt Brush, on Tuesday the Tigers bounced back from lackluster play in a 3-1 loss at a sub-500 Woodstock team on Saturday with a more determined effort.
“The girls worked harder today than they did on Saturday. We’ve got a few kids that are fighting the bug that’s going around, and with the short numbers it kind of shows up sometimes with energy. But I thought our girls fought through it tonight even though a couple of them were still sick,” Brush said, adding, “I thought we stood our ground and tried to outwork the team on the other side of the line.”
The Tigers set the tone immediately, as senior forwards Taylor Moulton and Merry Kimble forced Thayer to make saves in the first 30 seconds. Harwood pushed back five minutes into the first period, but Hodsden denied Reese Clayton’s short backhander and then Nichole Pappas from the left wing circle.
The Tigers had the next good chance, but Thayer held the left post on Tiger sophomore Avery Gale’s rebound bid on her own shot. Late in the period, Hodsden similarly denied Eva Joslin twice. But for the most part in the period Tiger defenders Audrey Schnoor, Ryley Olsen, Nyna Cole and Hana Doria limited the Highlanders’ looks, as Harwood earned an 8-6 edge in shots.
But in the second period Harwood scored and outshot MUHS, 14-11, as the Tigers made a few mistakes in puck management, including risky passes back to the point and horizontally.
“We’ll learn some of those lessons,” Brush said. “I think we were better in the third in most of those things than in the second. We talked about it between periods, and I think the kids responded.”
A Tiger pass back to the point led to an offensive blue-line turnover, a two-on-one Harwood breakout, and a 1-0 Highlander lead at 4:01 of the period.
Louisa Thompson won the puck and skated down the right side into the Tiger zone into the circle and fed Rachel Fernandez cutting inside the left circle. Fernandez pinged her low, 10-foot shot back off the inside of the right post, giving Hodsden no chance.
In the period Hodsden’s best work came when she stopped Clayton in the shot, denied Fernandez on another Thompson feed, and knocked down a Joslin shot from the left circle and then dove to cover the puck in a scramble.
At the other end Thayer stopped Moulton’s low backhander from the slot, moved to her right to shoulder away Moulton’s 15-foot one-timer, and denied a Bella Gale blast from between the circles.
The teams went onto the third period with Harwood still in the lead. Three minutes in Thayer sprawled to deny a bid by senior Izzy Pistilli. Kimble hustled for the rebound, but couldn’t quite lift it over the goalie into the open net.
Middlebury had a power play four minutes in, but landed only a Schnoor screened shot from the left point that Thayer bodied away.
The Tigers broke through at 8:38. Avery Gale sprung Bella Gale out of the defensive end with a strong breakout pass, and Bella Gale skated down the right side and cut between the circles and launched. Thayer got a piece of her high shot, but could not stop it.
The Tigers pressed in the final minute, but Thayer covered in a scramble and shortly after saved a Moulton bid.
In overtime Moulton unleashed a laser from the inside of the right circle that Thayer got just a piece of with her glove to deflect off the crossbar. The Highlanders got few clean looks on Hodsden, but she covered up loose pucks in scrums outside her crease to preserve the tie.
“Abby had to make some big saves,” Brush said. “She was strong in the net, stood tall when she had to.”
Brush said despite last week’s hiccup the Tigers had been steadily on the upswing, and Tuesday’s effort showed they are back on track heading into a Saturday game at Rutland.
“I think we’re improving throughout the season,” he said. “If we can find that energy every night, we’ll be really competitive no matter who we play.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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