by Richard Creaser
copyright the Chronicle 2-27-2014
JAY — Last season the North Country Falcons girls hockey team (12-8-1) was rewarded for their Lake Division runner-up finish with a promotion to the Metro Division. The 2013 Lake Division champion Harwood Highlanders also moved up a division but had quite a different experience with a 3-13-4 record.
How well the girls responded to the challenge is how Coach Claude Paul will remember his 2014 squad, not their 1-0 quarterfinal loss to the Colchester Lakers on Wednesday night, February 26, at the Ice Haus in Jay.
“We didn’t really know what to expect except that it was going to be tough,” Coach Paul said after the game. “In Metro teams run out two or three solid lines every night, for every game. There is no tail-off in talent.”
On a team that only has 12 players total, surviving the grind of high-intensity play each and every game was a challenge. But the Falcons proved that not only could they play at a high level, they also showed a winning attitude and aptitude as well.
“They really came together as a team,” Coach Paul said. “We had some rough patches but they stuck together and worked through it. They really moved the puck well and moved it to the right person all season long.”
While communication and puck movement earned them a number four seed in the standings, their draw was a particularly tough one on Wednesday night. In two prior games against the Lakers, North Country split the season series one game apiece. In both games the Lakers managed just a single goal winning 1-0 in the first meeting and losing to the Falcons 4-1 in the rematch. The stage was set for a tough game with playoff aspirations on the line.
“Colchester plays a very physical style of hockey,” Coach Paul said. “We can’t match up on that style of play so we needed to move the puck and create chances. It’s really comes down to the officiating and what they’ll let go.”
In the prior meetings, Colchester’s physical style often led to North Country power plays. While North Country did manage to eke out two power play attempts, they were unable to beat Colchester’s Erica Hoffmann in net.
Colchester’s, and the game’s, only goal came late in the second period as a scrum formed in front of Falcon Mikaella Doran’s net. The puck, lost amidst a tangle of sticks, was poked through Doran’s pads and slowly slid into the back of the net. Fans loudly protested the goal believing the puck to have been kicked in by Laker Taylor Dion. A review by the goal judge and officials upheld the tally giving Colchester a tremendous boost in confidence and the all-important opening lead.
One regrettable moment did not, however, diminish Doran’s heroics between the pipes. Time and again she trapped or deflected shots, giving her defense a chance to clear the zone.
“Mikaella was solid,” Coach Paul said of his sophomore goalie. “She was really good all year. She was tracking the puck well.”
Responding to challenges was something the Falcons did all season long, the coach said. Mid-way through the season, North Country hit a rough patch, losing four games and managing a tie in a period where North Country only managed three goals during that five-game stretch.
Coach Paul recalls talking to his team and encouraging them to play up to their potential. They took his comments to heart and reeled off six straight wins, averaging almost five goals a game while only surrendering an average of less than one goal per game to their opponents.
“I told them when that happens, they won’t owe me anything,” Coach Paul said. “It was nice to make the quarterfinals, but how they handled the end of the season is what matters to me. We all wanted this win but they gave me a great season so I can’t complain.”
contact Richard Creaser at email@example.com