BURLINGTON, Vt. -- The East Coast Wizards started their week off on a high note.
Beginning at 8 a.m. Monday, the Massachusetts team beat the Alaska All Stars 2-1 in the 16U title game at the Toyota-USA Hockey Girls Tier II National Championships in Burlington, Vermont.
Prior to the opening faceoff, coach Mark Lissner was asked what he had to do to get his team ready for an early morning national championship game after a pair of games the day before.
“Not much,” Lissner shrugged. “If they can’t get up for this one, there’s a problem.”
The All Stars, strong and determined, were a problem for two periods, but the Wizards picked up the pace in the third period and withstood two late penalties to emerge as national champions.
The Wizards’ Alisa Canney of Burlington, Massachusetts, scored the game-winner, with Rachael DiFraia and Jill Mercer assisting.
East Coast had been picking up speed shift to shift as Alaska tried in vain to pack it in and hunker down.
“On that line, Alisa was centering for two converted defensemen,” Lissner said. “They were never scored upon throughout the tournament. For them to get the game-winner is great.”
The Wizards got on the board first when Kate Shaughnessey scored in the first period. She spun around to open up her forehand, stepped to the net and scored into the top corner. Nicole Amato got the assist.
Alaska’s tied it up with 4:10 left in the period. Jaden Trboyevich came around the net and shot the puck off an East Coast player into the net past goalie Caroline Kukas.
The game remained deadlocked through two, and then Canney gave the Wizards a lead in the third. East Coast faithful got a charge when “Sweet Caroline” began playing over the sound system with three minutes remaining in the game and the Wizards ahead. Fans broke into boisterous song to cheer on their goalie.
Kukas had made a difficult save in the opening minutes when she reached back and got to the puck as it was about to slide over the line. She also handled another potentially dangerous chance 10 minutes later when she snagged a “skipping rock” puck in traffic.
Alaska goalie Emilia Helms-Leslie of Fairbanks more than held her own on the other end of the ice. She robbed Ali Stevens with a glove save at the edge of the blue ice on the power play in the second period and followed that with two more big stops on the same power play.
Helms-Leslie responded when Stevens reached a rebound off her mask and snuffed out her shot. With 25 seconds left in the man advantage Helms-Leslie flagged down a rocket from the point. She finished with 42 saves.
Play was halted in the second period to attend to Alaska’s Elly Whitmore, who went down after tripping over Kukas’ stick when she came out to angle off a break-in attempt.
Earlier, Alaska had an apparent goal nullified. The All Stars’ Olivia Matson sent the puck at the net from the top of the slot, and Madeline Millar raised her arms and stick and put a deflection past Kukas. A high stick violation left the goal off the scoreboard.
Strong penalty killing by Alaska’s Jade Pandres, Mattson, Ally Hull and Stella Olnes helped the All Stars.
In the final four minutes, DiFraia took the puck off an Alaskan stick twice under pressure, as did defenseman Leslie Schwartz.
“I thought we played kind of tight for two periods, and then we took over,” DeFraia, who plays for Melrose High School, said.
“Rachel and Emily Smith have been with me for two national championships and a national final,” Lissner said, adding that he thought the tournament performance of Kukas and Kelly Lavelle “was phenomenal.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.