By Tris Wykes

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Middlebury High’s girls ice hockey players wore tiger-patterned ribbons in their hair during Saturday afternoon’s Vermont Division II semifinal against Hartford. The Tigers also tied the Hurricanes offense in knots, pinning a 3-0 defeat on the hosts at Barwood Arena.

Hartford High’s Brianna Roberts (15) is outnumbered in front of the Middlebury net. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“I told them before we came out for the game that we had already won,” said first-year coach Hartford Kylie Young, who took over a program she once played for and that won just once last winter. “Not that we knew we had won this game, but that we had won the season because we’d gotten so much farther than anyone expected us to. 

“No one should hang their heads. It was a great game, a hard-fought game and the girls played with heart.”

Despite being in the semifinals, second-seeded Hartford (5-5) played only one postseason contest. The Hurricanes received an opening-round bye and quarterfinal opponent Stowe forfeited because of Covid-19 issues. 

Saturday, the hosts outshot sixth-seeded Middlebury, 23-19, but had only a handful of dangerous scoring chances. The Tigers (5-4) played with only six forwards and three defensemen, yet still excelled at keeping the Hurricanes from shooting between the circles. 

“We were really excited and worked really hard in front of the net,” said Hartford forward Izzy Stack. “We needed to put one in and sometimes that doesn’t happen, but I’m proud of how hard we worked. That was the most shots I’ve seen from our team in any of our games.”

Hartford High’s Morgan Curtis (24) and Brianna Roberts attempt to block a shot by Middlebury’s Audrey Schnoor. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Young concurred and noted that her squad regularly played a trio of eighth-graders this winter.

“We certainly pressured the puck harder than we have ever before in a game,” she said. “We’ve encouraged our girls to stand up against players that are bigger and stronger and more experienced than them. I was happy the referees let things run a bit so that we could get gritty in front of the net.”

Middlebury goaltender Abby Hodsden committed fully to blocking her goal’s bottom third, often dropping down before a shot was released. Hartford, however, couldn’t take advantage of that tantalizing, upstairs space.

“That’s what would have gotten shots in,” Stack said. “We need to work on pulling the puck back and shooting it up high.”

Middlebury opened the scoring during a scramble in the eighth minute. The Tigers’ Ella Tucker struck from near the right post, her effort the third consecutive shot sent towards goaltender Zoe Pfeiffer, who was swarmed and couldn’t control the rebounds. 

The visitors went up, 2-0, just 16 seconds before the first intermission. Channing Brush hammered a shot from the left circle and along the ice that barely snuck under the stick of a lunging defender and then below Pfeiffer’s right leg pad.

Tucker closed the scoring with 4 minutes, 29 seconds remaining after a breakaway through the right circle. Tucker shot over Pfeiffer’s blocker and inside the far post.

Hartford High’s Grace Bazin leads Middlebury’s Ella Tucker through center ice. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“We could have come back during the second or third period, but Middlebury’s a good team and didn’t have an easy ride to get here,” Young said. “They only had nine players but they’re all out there to play and work hard every second of their shifts.

“You can’t make mistakes against teams like this and it was the little things that added up today.”

Hartford entered the season 44-135-10 during the past nine years and 4-56-3 during the past three campaigns under previous coach Bill Goldsworthy. The Hurricanes snapped a 27-game winless streak last winter and Young’s arrival and demanding presence has electrified the program. 

“By game four, something switched and I knew we had real potential,” Young said. “Every practice was a winning practice, every player worked hard and learned what we needed them to learn. It’s miraculous how far they’ve come since last season.”

Said Stack: “I didn’t even know if we’d get to play this season and now that we made it all the way to semis, I’m trying not to cry. It was our attitude and we came to practices to work hard. We came in and decided we could do this, we could be a good team.”

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Hartford High’s Nora Knudsen (22) and Middlebury’s Audrey Schnoor have a close encounter with the end boards. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.