Tigers tame Wolves to claim D-II girls’ hockey title
BARRE — A lot of things go into a championship season. Skill, grit, chemistry, brains, and sometimes a dash of extra motivation and unforeseen circumstances.
The 2021 Division II Champion Middlebury Union High School girls’ hockey team checked all those boxes.
The score read: No. 6 seeded MUHS 2, No. 4 South Burlington 1, in a game played at Barre’s B.O.R. municipal rink last night, Wednesday, March, 24.
The story read: The Tigers’ roster included only 13 athletes — four goalies, and nine skating up and down the ice. That means two forward lines of three skaters each, and three defenders sharing time for 45 minutes.
And one of the forwards, junior Patience Hanley, was new to the sport. Her preseason signup allowed the Tigers to compete after their roster was depleted after others’ injuries and decisions not to skate.
Coach Matt Brush said that was one factor that allowed that Tigers to relax on the ice this winter — they were happy just to play.
“We didn’t even know if we were going to have a season,” Brush said. “Patience Hanley came as our ninth player so we could have a team. So this is bonus time. This is gravy. So we kind of played with that loose atmosphere in the playoffs, and we played our best hockey.”
Brush and senior goalie and tri-captain Abby Hodsden, whose 25 saves on Wednesday capped a playoff run of allowing three goals total in three games, said the Tigers still took the sport seriously.
Asked how the Tigers could succeed with so few skaters, Hodsden credited Brush and assistants Erin Robinson and Duncan Rollason, as well as her teammates.
“In the practices they really worked us, and we really responded well,” Hodsden said. “Our coaches just pushed us, and we have a great team, and just a great group of people that is willing to learn and to grow with what they’re brought in practice, and put it in the game.”
Brush agreed about the Tigers’ work ethic, as seen on Wednesday when their forwards consistently back-checked, broke up SB passing plays, prevented almost all odd-skater rushes on Hodsden, and won more than their fair share of individual battles for pucks.
“Hard work is probably our best asset. We have bunch of kids who are willing to put it on the ice every time they’re on it,” Brush said. “But we didn’t feel this pressure that, oh, we have to win. We have to do this. We’re just going to do our best, and our best is pretty good, so let’s just go out and see what happens.”
Or, as senior defender and tri-captain Audrey Schnoor put it, MUHS outworked the Wolves because they were more motivated, in part because their opponents had defeated them, 4-3, in the final game of the regular season, and in part because unlike the workmanlike Tigers their opponents yelled and banged sticks noisily and made No. 1 gestures before the game.
“They were cheering a lot, and they were holding up ones before the game even started like they had already won,” Schnoor said. “We just wanted to show them they didn’t already have it. They beat us. They weren’t going to beat us again.”
As well as playing strong defense in tandem with her fellow blue-liners, sophomore Hana Doria and freshman Lily Finn, Schnoor played a key attacking role.
After Hodsden made two key stops on SB freshman standout Catie Collins, Schnoor gave MUHS the lead at 8:59 of the first period. As the Tigers pressed, the puck popped to Schnoor at the right point. She flicked a long wrist shot through a maze of Tigers and Wolves out front that found its way past Wolf goalie Taylor Tobrocke.
The Tigers controlled the rest of the period, but Tobrocke denied Finn on a rebound out front and kicked away a strong bid by 8th-grader Channing Brush from between the circles.
The Tigers pressed again early in the second, and Schnoor nearly made it 2-0 from the right point. Her slapper deflected off a defender and pinged off the inside of the left post and bounced through the crease behind Tobrocke.
A minute later Hodsden denied SB’s Sabrina Brunet on a partial breakaway, stopping her backhand on the left post. It was a partial breakaway because pressure from a back-checking Brush would not allow Brunet a better angle on goal.
But the Wolves tied the game at 4:54 in the middle period. A shot from the left circle handcuffed Hodsden, and Hope Brunet found the puck before the goalie and slid it to Jordan LaRose for the tap-in.
The Tigers countered, but three shots in rapid sequence from Brush and freshman Ella Tucker found Tobrocke’s pads. Hodsden soon after came up big to shoulder away Sofia Richmond’s forehand bid on a rare SB two-on-one. The Tigers pressed late in the period, but Tobrocke (she made 24 saves) denied two backhands by Tiger 8th-grader Mckenna Raymond.
Five minutes into the third it looked like a Tucker shot from the slot snuck inside the left post of the South Burlington goal, but the official right there waved it off.
No matter, the Tiger netted the winner at 7:59. Schnoor fired a shot from the top of the right circle, and Brush tipped it out of mid-air into the top right corner.
The Tigers controlled most of the rest of action with strong defense, including by the second line of Hanley and freshman Erin Mulcahy on the wings and junior Ryley Olsen at center.
“Without the stingy defense they played we would not be holding a trophy,” Coach Brush said. “All three of them, and Ryley Olsen particularly, knew their roles, how to be a really good defensive forward.”
In the final minute, Hodsden made one last stop, her 25th, on SB’s Mia Angwin’s long shot from the left point, and soon the Tigers were celebrating.
“It feels really good my senior year to get this win because we have such a great team,” said Hodsden, one of the team’s three seniors along with Schnoor and fellow goalie Lydia Deppman, with whom she shared time this winter. “We were the underdog and overcame challenges, and we won. It’s really wonderful.”
Schnoor said it felt “absolutely great.”
“This is my favorite group of girls that I’ve ever skated with,” Schnoor said. “I’m so happy this is the team that I won the state championship with. I love everyone on the team, and I think that makes a difference.”
Coach Brush agreed with Schnoor’s sentiment.
“It was as much fun of a season as I’ve ever had,” Brush said. “These 13 girls reminded me what team chemistry, team culture, really means to success. And these 13 are here because of how great a team culture they created.”