by Richard Creaser
JAY — The North Country Falcons (10-4-1) came out on the wrong end in a match-up of top five Metro Division teams in boys hockey action on Saturday night as they lost 3-2 against the visiting Essex Hornets (11-2-2). The game featured solid goaltending on both sides as Chris Bronson patrolled the net for North Country and Brock Paquette manned the pipes for Essex.
Saturday’s contest at the Ice Haus in Jay displayed some of the finest hockey action fans for either side could have expected. The game’s officials appeared content to let the teams play a physical — though far from goonish — game. Hard hits, slick skating and dynamic playmaking kept the two sides close throughout the contest.
The Falcons have scored five or more goals in nine of their ten wins and have yet to be shut out by any opponent. By contrast, and with only a few exceptions, Essex has proven itself a capable defensive team whose wins generally turn on low-scoring affairs including a 1-0 shutout win over top seeded South Burlington. Saturday’s match would be a contest that would pit North Country’s high flying offense against the Hornets’ smothering defense.
Scoring opportunities would be at a premium on Saturday night. As if realizing the enormity of the challenge, the Falcons took advantage of an early power play opportunity. Ross DeLaBruere would record the power play goal at 7:06 of the first period to give the Falcons the early lead. Nathan Marsh provided the assist.
The teams would remain dead even through the second period, as the two teams battled to a scoreless draw. North Country had a few solid scoring chances on breakaways but were unable to beat Hornet net minder Paquette to increase their lead.
“We didn’t really give them a lot of quality scoring chances,” Falcons Coach Andrew Roy said after the game. “We were able to keep them on the wings, out of the front of the net. We played 30 minutes of good hockey and then got a little sloppy in the final period.”
The Falcons received a boost in the third period when Adam Viens wrangled the puck past Paquette to give North Country a 2-0 lead a mere 47 seconds into the period. It appeared that the Falcons had the game well in hand until the Hornets struck at 5:03. Tom Fogg snuck one past Bronson to cut the Falcons’ lead in half.
Four minutes later the wheels came off the bus for North Country. Penalties to DeLaBruere and Viens 37 seconds apart gave Essex a 5 on 3 advantage. Those penalties had a greater effect on the outcome of the game than fatigue brought on by a short bench, Coach Roy said.
“I don’t think it was tired legs or anything else,” Coach Roy said. “We made some key mistakes out there tonight and it cost us. It’s a tough loss to swallow.”
Though North Country would hang in and kill off the penalties, Essex took advantage of the post-power play confusion to strike. A mere 16 seconds after Viens came out of the box Luc LeBlanc would deflect in a shot from Nate Foice to tie up the game at 2-2.
The collapse would be complete when, with 1:22 remaining to play, Steve Jurkewiecz buried a pass from Joey Robertson and Brody Almeida to cap off the Hornets’ comeback win.
Despite the heartbreaking loss Coach Roy was not discouraged with his team’s chances heading toward the post-season.
“If we can avoid making those mistakes we can play with anyone,” Coach Roy said. “There’s no reason we can’t be the top team in the state.”
The Falcons play two more home games against BFA-St. Albans on Wednesday, February 13, at 6 p.m. and Rutland on February 16 at 7 p.m. before finishing out the regular season with three road games against Rice Memorial, Middlebury and Champlain Valley Union on February 20, 23 and 26 respectively.
contact Richard Creaser at [email protected]