MIDDLEBURY — After a few competitive, but ultimately unsuccessful, games against the top teams in Division II, the Middlebury Union High School girls’ hockey team on Friday out-skated winless Montpelier and earned a 7-0 victory — their third win in nine 2012 outings. The Tigers have gone 3-5-1 since Jan. 1.
In improving to 5-8-2, the Tigers outshot the Solons, 60-4, and got two goals apiece from seniors Heather and Maria Ploof and freshman Angela Carone.
If not for some solid work from Solon goalie Mary Cain — she made a series of glove saves on Maria Ploof slapshots that had Ploof shaking her head — the score would have been even more one-sided.
With five games left, the Tigers still have a solid chance for a winning season: They tied one upcoming foe, Rutland; lost to another, Brattleboro, in overtime, a game in their own holiday tournament they feel they should have won; face Rice, a team with a similar record; and then finish against two teams they have handled, Mount Mansfield and Woodstock.
Heather Ploof, a veteran defensive anchor who tallied both her goals in Friday’s first period, said she believes the Tigers can make a run.
“It was tough during the middle of the season,” she said. “But after this game I think, and I hope, things will start changing for the better.”
Co-coaches Tim Howlett and Wendy Leeds said they were not discouraged by the Tigers’ efforts in their previous two games, 6-2 losses to top-four D-II teams.
“They were both 2-6 losses that did not feel like lopsided games at all,” Leeds said. “We played pretty well.”
One of those games came this past Wednesday at Harwood; the 12-2 Highlanders outshot the Tigers, 42-28, and scored twice in the third period to pull away. Tiger goalie Ashley Howlett made 36 saves, while Timi Carone and Sara Boe found the net for MUHS.
With the less formidable Solons in town, the Tiger co-coaches took the opportunity to tinker with their lineup, and could keep some of the changes.
“We just wanted to keep them thinking, talking, moving, heads-up, not taking anything for granted,” Leeds said. “So we made them play all over the place, different people on different lines, and some of the things we saw we may end up sticking with.”
Despite the Tigers’ 17-0 first-period shots advantage, it did take them a while to find the net. Finally, at 10:30, Boe circled from behind the MHS net around the right-wing circle and spotted Heather Ploof cutting into the high slot. Ploof whipped a forehand into the upper right corner to make it 1-0.
Just 1:28 later, Angela Carone made it 2-0. She won the puck at the Solon blue line and went in alone on Cain, who stopped Carone’s first bid, but not the rebound. Freshman defender Harper Smith was credited with an assist.
The Tigers then made it three goals in 2:27 when Maria Ploof fed Heather Ploof at the top of the right-wing circle, and her slapper nestled into the upper left corner to make it 3-0 after one.
The end of the period also ended Howlett’s night; the Tigers’ senior mainstay in goal concluded a rocking-chair evening without facing a shot. Freshman Baily Ryan took over and made four saves, doing her best work in the third when she stopped a pair of strong bids from the bottom of the left-wing circle.
Before then, the Tigers pelted Cain with 23 shots in the second period. Cain twice robbed Maria Ploof with the glove early on, including during the game’s only power play, made a nice blocker save on Boe in traffic, and stoned a Maria Ploof backhander from the slot.
The Tigers picked up one score in the middle 15 minutes, from Maria Ploof. Senior defender Amanda Galenkamp sent sophomore forward Paige Viens in down the left side, and she centered smartly to Ploof for the far-side conversion at 7:07. A few seconds later, the crossbar denied Heather Ploof’s best bid for the hat trick.
At 1:25 of the third senior forward Theresa Huestis made it 5-0 on a clever tip-in of senior Taylor Becker’s high shot from the point. Maria Ploof and Angela Carone rounded out the scoring with breakaway goals at 6:44 and 11:22, respectively.
The Tigers often moved the puck crisply to create their opportunities, and Coach Howlett said similar play would go a long way down the stretch and in the postseason.
“I think we have to work a little harder on selfless play and a little more on triangles, getting down below the net and really causing havoc,” Howlett said. “We’ve skated with every single team. I don’t think there’s a team we can’t beat on any given night.”
Heather Ploof saw Friday’s game as a step in the right direction.
“I’m confident now,” she said. “I’ve seen how well we were able to work together today.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.