By Gregory J. Lamoureux
SOUTH BURLINGTON: The Missisquoi Thunderbirds squeezed out a win on Wednesday evening, ousting the South Burlington Wolves from the Vermont Principal’s Association Division 2 Girls Hockey Playoffs.
The Thunderbirds came out strong but couldn’t keep up with their rhythm, luckily, it was enough for a win to advance to the Championship game on Monday at Gutterson Fieldhouse at the University of Vermont.
MVU head coach Wynn Paradee summed up the game quite simply, “We didn’t deserve to win it… Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”
With a quick 3-0 lead early on, the Thunderbirds began to coast.
Ten minutes later the Thunderbirds would tack another puck into the back of the net with a goal by Alyssa Audet, and assisted by Lora Fresn. Audet came in from the back door with a well-placed shot to propel the Thunderbirds to a 2-0 lead.
Early in the second period Callie Parks took advantage of a power play to add the winning goal to the board with more than half the game ahead of them.
“I don’t know what happened,” Paradee said, “I guess you have to give South Burlington credit.”
What happened is South Burlington turned the game around, shutting our the Thunderbirds for the remainder of the game, and picking up a pair of goals for themselves.
Madison Conley lead the team to the victory, according to Paradee, with 42 shots on goal, allowing just two past her pads. The freshman goalie showed she had the ability to stop the puck and be one of the best Girls goalies Vermont has seen in years.
Conley stopped 30 of 32 shots in just the second and third periods.
To put that into comparison, South Burlington took more shots on goal in the third period than Missisquoi did in the entire game.
“She had some shots that I thought were in, and all of a sudden she made the save,” said Paradee. “Defensively I think what we did best was give them one shot… typically at this level the goals that are scored are usually the second or third look.”
Paradee said the Thunderbirds are looking good this year despite a standout player, and that might just be the key to their success.
“South Burlington had (Clair) Wright and (Kate) Hall, two great centers that will do it for them,” Paradee said, “We spread it all around. One night someone might be on, and the next night someone else might take over.”
This overwhelming ability to mold themselves into the play, and not allow their opponents to know who to defend is a huge advantage, according to Paradee.
“I went to a coaches meeting last week, and I had coaches tell me they don’t know who to defend,” Paradee recounted.
Ultimately it will be the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between top seed Stowe and fourth seed Woodstock that the Thunderbirds will have to defeat on Monday to win the championship. That game, which was scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed due to weather.
Paradee was reluctant to say who he would rather be up against at Guttterson next week.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times,” Paradee said, “If it were Woodstock, we’d have to beat them for the third time (this season) – that being said, if it’s Stowe, they’d have to beat us for the third time (this season).”
Gutterson brings a whole new set of challenges for the Thunderbirds. The rink which is significantly larger also has much different ice. Paradee expects that the ice at Gutterson will be much slower than they are used to playing on in Highgate.
“It’s the heat that could really do us in,” Paradee said, “The girls aren’t used to playing in such a warm rink.”
The warmth is part of what slows down the puck at Gutterson, a challenge that the Highgate Arena certainly doesn’t have to contend with.
“We have to play better on Monday if we are going to win,” Paradee said after the game, “We played well the first period, which has been our worst period the whole season.”
Maybe the players checked out, maybe the girls were tired, but Paradee said the girls should learn from this game as if it were a loss going into Monday’s championship game.
The Thunderbirds did well killing the penalties against South Burlington, stopping the Wolves from scoring on six of the Thunderbirds seven penalties.
It makes it hard to play defense, according to Paradee, “When you play offense you can be out there four or five minutes. When you’re on defense your tired after a minute.”
Paradee thought that the penalties continued to erode at the Thunderbirds energy level throughout the second half of the game.
Paradee said he’s going to sit down with the team between now and Monday’s game and point out what can happen, but last year’s trip to Gutterson may give the Thunderbirds a head start over either prospective opponent, either Stowe or Woodstock.