by Richard Creaser
copyright the Chronicle 12-20-2013
JAY — It has been a rough introduction to the Metro Division for the North Country Falcons (3-2) girls hockey team. Having clawed their way to a much-deserved title match last season, both the Falcons and their Lake Division rival and division champion Harwood Highlanders bumped up to the Metro Division this season. Wednesday night’s game, December 18, at the Ice Haus in Jay, an 8-2 loss, marked the Falcons’ fifth game of the season and third against a Metro Division opponent — the reigning Metro Division champion BFA St. Albans Comets (4-1).
“Until you play a team for the first time, it’s hard to know what to expect,” North Country Coach Claude Paul said after Wednesday night’s game. “The next time we meet, it’s really on me to figure it out. The girls left everything on the ice tonight.”
The Falcons have squared off against two of the top teams in the Metro division in Essex and BFA St. Albans, both times walking away with a loss. The Falcons did, however, earn a win against Spaulding High to mark their first Metro win of the season.
Harwood has not been so fortunate. Last season’s lake Division champs have hit an 0-4 skid having been blanked in their first game against Northfield, a Lake Division team, and reeled off three straight losses against the Metro Division’s Colchester, South Burlington/CVU and Essex.
“I was pretty nervous coming into this game,” Falcon Crystal Moss said after the game. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. We also knew we would have to stick together as a team, no matter what happened.”
What happened was four lines of offensive crunch that gave the Falcon goaltender Mikaella Doran and the North Country defenders little room to breathe. From the outset the Comets displayed the physical, gritty hockey that earned them the state title last season. The Comets used their size and strength to leverage advantage away from the Falcons every time the play moved against the boards.
“They play a very physical style of hockey and that’s what works for them,” Coach Paul said of the Comets. ‘That’s not the style of hockey we play but obviously they make it work for them.”
That physical play enabled the Comets to set up effective screens and to push Falcon defenders out of shooting lanes enabling their shooters to pepper Doran relentlessly. The Comets deadly trinity of Jade Remillard, Aliza Ellis and Chelsea Ellis took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves, racking up nine points between them including a hat trick for Remillard.
Taking advantage of opportunities was something Coach Paul expected the reigning champs to do and they did, he said. Making mistakes, particularly against teams as deep and talented as the Comets, can prove costly.
“We could have made a few less mistakes but I’m not sure it would have necessarily changed the outcome,” Coach Paul said. “The score maybe, but probably not the outcome.”
Though Marina Nadeau put up a formidable blockade in the BFA St. Albans net, she was not invincible. Speed was the Falcons major advantage on the night as both of the Falcon goals came on breakaways.
North Country did not score until they had already fallen behind 4-0 in the second period. Whitney Bernier cruised up the left wing pulling away from the Comet defenders leaving an opening between her and Nadeau. Some nifty stick work and a sniper-accurate wrist shot to the upper corner broke the Comets shutout bid. The joy was short-lived as the Comets responded in kind 15 seconds later to reclaim the advantage.
The Falcons second and final goal came late in the third period as Crystal Moss, executing her latest breakaway, snapped a wrist shot from the left wing that cruised through Nadeau’s five-hole. Throughout the night the Falcon snipers had picked away at Nadeau but simply had proven unable to get anything through.
“I thought we generated some really nice chances on offense,” Coach Paul said. “We had at least ten really good chances but just didn’t have anything to show for it.”
Despite the relentless grind of facing a full rotation of deep, fresh lines, Moss was pleased with how her team responded to the night’s challenge. In a game where the team could have easily and understandably succumbed to despair, they didn’t.
“It’s not about one of us, it’s about all of us, together, as a team,” Moss said. “We made some mistakes and they took advantage of that. But we didn’t get down on each other because that’s not how we play.”
Knowing now how aggressive the Comets are on the attack, Moss said the team may need to be more mindful of both ends of the ice. The focus on the attack meant that the defenders were often overwhelmed which in turn left Doran in an indefensible position in nets.
“I need to be more aware of what’s happening behind me in the defensive zone,” Moss said. “I need to be ready to help them move the puck out but I also need to be able to step back in and help them clear the zone.”