BFA-St. Albans' Jodie Gratton celebrates her first-period goal with linemate Bri Jarvis during Friday's semifinal win over Rutland (Anthony Labor Jr., County Courier)



ST. ALBANS – At the beginning of the season, BFA-St. Albans captain Sophie Zemianek had a message for her team.  

Remembering last year when the Comets were knocked out of the playoffs in the quarterfinal round for the first time in program history, she told the team they had to stay focused throughout the course of the entire year and couldn’t take any team lightly no matter what the records were.

The message seems to have been received by the Comets, as they finished off the regular season 19-0 and seem to have gotten even better throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The top-seeded Comets haven’t allowed a goal through their first two playoff games after their 5-0 win over fourth-seeded Rutland on Friday to advance to the program’s 17th championship.

“After last year, Sophie had a huge part of our mentality coming into this season,” said BFA junior Jodie Gratton when asked if the early exit from last year’s playoffs added to the motivation for this season. “She told us this wasn’t going to be an easy season and we may be winning games early, but things will get hard and get tough and we always have to give it our all every practice, every warmup and every game. We have embraced what she told us and we have just stayed focused day-by-day to keep getting better.”

The Comets special teams continued to impress during Friday’s game, as they went 2-for-3 on the powerplay and 7-for-7 on the penalty kill.

“We took a lot of penalties tonight, but we killed them all off and used a lot of different kids,” said BFA coach Luke Cioffi. “We got fresh legs out there and didn’t give them a lot of opportunities on their powerplay, so I was pleased with our effort there.”

The top line of Gratton (one goal, one assist), Caroline Bliss (one goal) and Bri Jarvis (one goal) continued its dominance throughout the course of the game.

The three have accounted for 111 points this year with Gratton tallying 47 points (23 goals, 24 assists), Bliss with 37 (18 goals, 19 assists) and Jarvis with 27 (14 goals, 13 assists).

“Caroline and Bri have done more for me this year than I can even explain,” said Gratton. “They set me up in so many ways and they always pick me up if I make a mistake. They are two amazing hockey players and I am beyond grateful to have them as my linemates.”

Zemianek (one goal, one assist) continued her hot streak, as her first-period goal to open the scoring extended her point streak to 11 games. She has had a stellar season of her own with 43 points from 21 goals and 22 assists.

With just over five minutes to go in the first period, she skated the puck through a trio of defenders and flipped a wrist shot that got past Rutland goalie Sierra McDermott (18 saves) and off the post and in for the 1-0 lead.

“I just thought this was my chance and I have to do what I know I can do,” said Zemianek. “I tried to not think about it and put it where I saw some space and put it into the net.”

Less than two minutes later, Gratton extended the lead for the Comets. With BFA on the penalty kill, Rutland attempted a slapshot from the blue line that was blocked by Gratton. Shortly after in the same shift, Gratton picked up the put in the neutral zone and skated past the Rutland defenders and shifted to her backhand and in for the 2-0 lead going into the first intermission.

“We preach for everyone on the team is you have to get in front of the shot and she did that on that first penalty kill and got an opportunity to get up the ice,” said Cioffi. “And she doesn’t miss too many of those chances when she has those opportunities.”

BFA tallied a pair of powerplay goals in the second period to extend the lead. Midway through the period, Gratton sent a shot in on net and Jarvis picked up the rebound and shot it in the net to make it 3-0. With less than a minute to go, Zemianek took a shot from the blue line off a face off and Bliss was on the spot to tip it in for the 4-0 lead.

The period was capped off with Rutland getting pressure on Makenna Montgomery (22 saves), who made a fantastic save just before the buzzer to keep the zero on the board for Rutland, as she completed her second shutout of the season.  

“Makenna had to work a bit tonight and it was a solid game out of her,” said Cioffi. “Playing your best hockey is what you want this time of the year, and I would say this was one of her best performances of the season and very pleased with her work.”

BFA added the fifth goal midway through the third period when Annika Fersing took a pass from Rowan Howrigan and put a perfect wristshot into the back of the net with some help from Reese Clayton, who was providing a screen in front of the net for the final goal. From there, the Comets defense and Montgomery did their job to keep the zero on the board.

The motivation has been easy for the Comets all season long with memories from last year still in place, and are one win away from the program’s 12th championship.

“I think a lot of girls learned from last year and it helped us all grow to be stronger,” said Zemianek. “We knew we didn’t want a repeat of last year, so the determination, the hard work, the mindset is what we have been pushing for all year.”

The Comets will face off against No. 2 Spaulding for the Division I title, who defeated No. 3 Essex 4-3 on Friday.

BFA came away with a pair of wins against Spaulding this season by scores of 5-3 and 3-2. It will be the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs since 2014 and the first time playing against each other in a championship since 2011 when the Comets topped the Crimson Tide for the second straight year in the title game.

“It’s going to be another physical game with Spaulding,” said Cioffi. “It’s a big sheet of ice that changes the game a little bit, but I don’t think it’s going to be a high-scoring game.”

Puck drop is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at Gutterson Fieldhouse.