With Essex and BFA-St. Albans meeting for the first time since last year’s girls ice hockey Metro Division state championship, both teams expected a tight, close game.
“On the days you play Essex, you know you are going to have a tough game” said BFA-St. Albans coach Luke Cioffi.
The game was very much what both sides expected, a physical matchup that came down to which team won the battles.
With less than five minutes remaining in the second period, Essex’s Melanie Theriault won the game’s biggest battle.
The junior forward outmuscled a Comets defender in the slot and, while holding off the defender and maintaining her balance, fired a shot past goalie Marina Nadeau (four saves) to give the Hornets the one-goal lead that sprang them to a 4-1 victory.
It was a measure of revenge for the Hornets, who lost to the Comets 3-0 in the state title game last season.
“We’ve been working on trying to become a little bit more physical and a little bit stronger because you have to be against BFA,” Essex coach John Maddalena said. “They are a big, strong team.”
Twenty seconds later, Kathleen Young finished off a pass from Theriault on a 2-on-1 and Essex was firmly in control of the game.
“We executed everything very well,” Theriault said. “Perfect break out, perfect passes all around and that’s really what made it happen, everyone working together.”
The game did not start out well for Essex (6-1-2), who were outshot 18-2 in the first period. BFA (4-2) capitalized on its strong start at the 7:46 mark of the first frame.
Chelsea Ellis jumped on a loose puck that popped out in front of Essex goalie Victoria Gibson (36 saves) and fired a shot that snuck under Gibson’s pad for a 1-0 Comets lead.
It seemed like the Ellis goal was just the beginning for BFA, which kept storming the net, but Gibson kept her team close.
“She’s a phenomenal goaltender,” Maddalena said. “Particularly against BFA, you know that they are going to have strong, aggressive girls right in front of you face and you’ve got to keep your composure and work your way through it. Victoria did a great job of that tonight.”
The Hornets rewarded Gibson for her play with less than a minute remaining in the first period. With Kait Laroe in the penalty box for BFA, Theriault found Young wide open on the left faceoff dot and the junior fired the puck past Nadeau to tie the game.
“When our coaches are telling us that we are getting outshot that bad, we want to outshoot them and it helps fuel our fire,” Theriault said. “We always play better after we score a goal.”
Despite the late goal, BFA continued to dominate the game in the second period, forcing Gibson to keep her team in the game. The junior keeper was up to the task, keeping the Comets off the board until the Hornets broke through with less than five remaining in the second.
The Hornets controlled the third period, keeping BFA away from Gibson and adding their fourth goal with 6:43 remaining. Sarah Tobey pounced on a loose puck in front and jammed it past Comets goalie Haley Cooper (five saves), who came into the game when Nadeau exited with an injury in the second.
“The win is always great, but what I do like is that we got better every period,” Maddalena said.
After putting 30 shots on Gibson in the first two period, BFA was limited to six shots in the third, and could not muster the offense for a comeback.
“We’re just going to get better as the year goes on,” said Cioffi, whose team hasn’t played a game since Dec. 18 and was missing five players due to injury. “You want to win every game but I think everybody is in a good frame of mind.”