Girls’ hockey drops home opener

MUHS FRESHMAN FORWARD Erin Sears redirects junior Erin Mulcahy’s feed from behind the net into the goal during Saturday’s Tiger hockey home game. The Tigers lost to CVU, 5-1. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — The Division II Middlebury Union High School girls’ hockey team hung with visiting D-I Champlain Valley-Mount Mansfield collective for a period and a half on Saturday night in the opener for both teams. But the CougarHawks broke the game open with back-to-back power-play goals in the middle period on the way to a 5-1 victory. 

Junior goalie Ruby Hubbell’s 12 first-period saves and hard work on defense kept the game scoreless for the first 14:22. But that’s when Hubbell denied Riley Erdman’s shot from the left circle, but could not stop CougarHawk Samara Tucker from popping the rebound inside the right post. 

FRESHMAN FORWARD SAWYER Witscher moves in to defend a CVU player in the slot during Saturday evening’s Tiger girls’ hockey home game.
Independent photo/Steve James

Before then, Hubbell had made a series of stops, including on a Tucker breakaway. In another sequence Hubbell took a Tucker blast on the mask and then padded away Hannah Schmid’s rebound bid. 

The Tigers had opportunities, too, but CVU goalie Grace Ferguson was up to the task. Three minutes in Ferguson squeezed her pads to deny MUHS junior forward Erin Mulcahy cutting in alone from the right, and four minutes later she denied Mulcahy from the slot. Late in the period Ferguson gloved freshman Erin Sears’s shorthanded wrister from the left circle. 

The Tigers had a chance to equalize on a power play early in the second, but Sears shot just wide, and freshman defender Quinn Doria saw her promising bid blocked by a defender. 

TIGER FRESHMAN DEFENDER Quinn Doria rushes the puck up ice during Saturday evening’s home game against CVU.
Independent photo/Steve James

At 2:20 the CougarHawks extended their lead on a fluky goal. Sophie Brien’s soft screened shot from the left side took an odd bounced and trickled through Hubbell’s pads. 

The Tigers got that goal back 43 seconds later from Sears. Freshman Kenyon Connors won the puck in the left corner and fed out front, where Sears had battled for position just outside the crease. She levered the puck past Ferguson with a backhand move.

At 9:07 of the period the Tigers got a golden chance to equalize when the CougarHawks drew a penalty. Instead, CVU stormed the MUHS end, forcing Hubbell to make two point-blank saves and drawing two Tiger penalties about a minute apart. 

With CVU briefly enjoying a five-on-three advantage, Erdman picked up a loose puck in the slot and fired it high into the net. With a second left in the five-on-four power play, Megan Rivard scored on a similar play, and the lead was 4-1. 

TIGER JUNIOR GOALIE Ruby Hubbell makes one of her 26 saves during the MUHS girls’ hockey team’s 5-1 setback to visiting CVU on Saturday night.
Independent photo/Steve James

Erdman added a full-strength unassisted goal in the third period, during which again Sears and Mulcahy forced Ferguson to make strong saves. She finished with 12, while Hubbell made 26. 

First-year Tiger Coach PJ Lalonde pointed to the CVU power plays as pivotal, but found things to like in a game in which the CougarHawks dressed almost twice as many skaters as the Tigers’ 12.

“The girls all worked very hard. It was a pretty hard-fought game. And I think in the end what really got to us was penalties,” Lalonde said. “We took a few too many penalties and paid the price. Sometimes that’s the nature of the game. But overall as a group they played well for a first game. There are definitely a few kinks to work out, but the compete level and the execution was all there.”

Certainly the Tiger backs — seniors Hana Doria and Nyna Cole, junior Lily Finn and ninth-grader Quinn Doria — held their own, the forwards created chances, and Hubbell had a strong game. 

“Ruby played really well, made some key saves and kind of kept us in it,” Lalonde said. “Your goalie is your biggest penalty-killer, and unfortunately she couldn’t save them all for us today.”

THE TIGER GIRLS’ hockey team had a few good chances in their 5-1 loss to visiting D-I foe CVU on Saturday. Here CVU goalie Grace Ferguson squeezes her pads to deny MUHS junior forward Erin Mulcahy’s breakaway bid.
Independent photo/Steve James

As well as working to improve the Tigers’ penalty kill, Lalonde said he would be looking to sharpen their power play and forecheck, hopefully at least a little bit before they were set to host Colchester/Burlington on Wednesday after the deadline for this issue. Next up after that is a Saturday game at Rutland.

Still, Lalonde said what he saw on opening night led him to believe the Tigers should be competitive in D-II this winter. 

“They were a tough opponent. We’re pretty low on numbers, and when you take that many penalties it can take the wind out of your sails pretty quick,” he said. “But the compete level was great, and they generated some chances.” 

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