VERGENNES — The Middlebury Union High School girls’ hockey team claimed the program’s first state championship on Wednesday at the University of Vermont’s Gutterson Fieldhouse.
But it wasn’t easy. The 19-3-1, top-seeded Tigers weathered a third-period storm in which they were outshot by 13-1 and played shorthanded for seven minutes to edge No. 2 Burr & Burton, 2-1, for the Division II crown.
Junior goalie Baily Ryan stopped all 13 of those shots — and 24 in all — to backbone the win, and senior forward Sara Boe put two pucks past Bulldog goalie Kaylie Benson, who made 12 saves.
But ultimately, the Tigers said it was a team effort that allowed them to hold off the 17-4-2 Bulldogs, who looked a little more comfortable all night on the big Gutterson ice than the Tigers — Burr & Burton’s home rink, like the Gut, is larger than the Tigers’ home ice.
“Every practice we set our goals for this. We were looking forward to this moment. We saw the opportunity, we met our goals, and here we are now,” said senior tri-captain and defender Paige Viens. “We came together as a team.”
Senior tri-captain and forward Timi Carone described what was going through her mind while the Bulldogs came at them during the third period. She spoke of a season of hard work paying off.
“I thought everything, everything about the whole season, everything we’d been through,” Carone said. “I just thought, ‘We can do this, we can do this, guys. Keep going, don’t stop, don’t stop.’ We’ve worked so hard to get here, and we did it.”
Boe, the third captain, took it back even further. The Tigers — who lost their leading 2013 scorer, sophomore Emma Best, to injury before the season began — have made steady progress, going from .500 two years ago to 13 wins and a semifinal berth in 2013, and to the D-II title this year, she said, all through effort and teamwork.
“I could not be happier. After building from my freshman year, it seems like each year we’ve been getting better and better, more competitive,” Boe said. “And this year we came in at the beginning and we had a goal to get a state championship, and just to have accomplished that and to have such a good road to get there feels amazing.”
MIDDLEBURY UNION HIGH School sophomore Sarah Kelley breaks across the blue line and heads toward the Burr and Burton goal last Wednesday night in Burlington. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Co-coach Tim Howlett agreed the Tigers had the togetherness and work ethic as well as the talent needed to succeed, and credited the captains for helping to develop those intangibles.
“The chemistry is great all the way around. They get along great. They’re a very tight group. They work very hard,” Howlett said. “We’ve got some blue-collar captains that know how to work hard and set the example for everybody.”
Carone pointed back at Howlett and co-coaches Matt Brush and Derek Bartlett.
“We had great coaches. They taught us so much this year,” Carone said.
On this past Wednesday, the first two periods were evenly contested by teams that split two regular-season contests.
Boe opened the scoring at 5:24 of the first period by backhanding home the rebound of junior Alli White’s shot from the right-wing circle.
The Bulldogs equalized 2:17 later by capitalizing on the first of their four power plays (to none for the Tigers). Ryder Ferrone found the upper right corner from the high slot after taking Daisy Sullivan’s feed from the left side.
The shots finished at 6-6 in the period. Carone’s shot from the slot early on deflected high, and Benson soon after stopped freshman Monroe Cromis. Ryan denied a Sullivan wraparound bid and stopped Aggie Bisselle’s breakaway with a poke-check, possibly her best save.
“Oh my gosh, Baily, she saved our butts a couple times,” Carone said.
The Tigers earned a 7-6 shots edge in the second period. The Tigers controlled early on, with White and Kelley buzzing the Bulldog net and Benson stopping junior center/defender Angela Carone. The Bulldogs started to skate better, though, and effectively denied one-on-one rushes by the Carone sisters, the third of whom is freshman center/defender Julia Carone.
But the Tiger defensive corps of Viens, sophomores Tajah Marsden and Lauren Bartlett, and freshman Molly Wetmore held fast in front of Ryan, who continued her solid positional work.
Boe scored again at 6:35 of the period, sliding a 10-foot shot into the lower left corner after Timi Carone won a faceoff in the left circle to Julia Carone, who relayed to Boe outside the crease. Boe tucked the puck back the inside of the left post, catching Benson sliding in the other direction.
Boe’s two goals gave her seven in the past four games: two in the 5-2 win over Burr & Burton on Feb. 24 that gave the Tigers the top seed, two in their quarterfinal win, the overtime game-winner in their semifinal win, and both MUHS goals last week.
Brush said it was just a matter of her shots finally finding the net.
“She seemed to have great opportunities all year along, and she came alive right at the end of the season right when she needed to,” Brush said.
But the Tigers still had to protect the lead, and the Bulldogs had the better legs in the third period — and the advantage of six minutes of power-play time and 1:03 with an extra skater with their goalie pulled.
But Ryan caught or turned aside shots, the Tiger defenders cleared rebounds; they and forwards Timi Carone, Boe, Sara Kelley, White, Harper Smith and Cromis backchecked and disrupted plays; and many Tigers blocked shots — Angela Carone had six of the Tigers’ 12.
The Bulldogs owned the puck, but they couldn’t take the lead away from the Tigers.
Finally, the Tigers worked the puck to center ice in the final minute, and Boe flipped it into the Bulldog zone with seconds left, and soon the Tigers were celebrating.
Timi Carone described the emotions.
“I grew up playing with these girls since U-14, and I know how they play. They just give it all they can. This is crazy,” Carone said. “This is great, and I’ll never forget it.”
Viens said the Tigers had all the ingredients for success.
“It feels amazing. I am so lucky to have done it with this group of girls,” Viens said. “Earlier in the season I said this was a vat for a soup, and here we are. We have the best recipe. We have all the girls. We have the coaches. It was the best season ever.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.