It’s a group that has accomplished so much on the ice.
Yet, it still has aspirations to achieve its highest goal, which is winning a national championship.
About 75 percent of the girls on the Hartford Jr. Wolfpack Tier I 14U team won the Connecticut state championship and USA Hockey New England District title last season and competed at the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships, falling in the quarterfinals at Tier II 14U.
This year, the Wolfpack bumped up to Tier I 14U and took care of business again, winning the state and district titles.
“When we did it at Tier II, it was a first for all the girls,” Wolfpack coach Craig Millard said. “When we lost in the quarterfinals last year amongst all the tears and life lessons, I looked at them and said, ‘There is another caveat here, nationals next year is in Irvine, California.’ So, the destination of being in California plus the ability to move up to Tier I and then continue to make it to nationals was a really, really big accomplishment.”
In 2017, that same group won Tier I 12U state title but fell in the district title game. So, this group has captured three state championships and two district championships in the first three years the program has been around.
Millard loves the mix of players on his team.
“The girls are very talented but they also work hard,” Millard said. “It’s a very gritty team and it’s a fierce forechecking team. Our offensive zone time this year has been most games 60 to 65 percent of the games. We have the talent, but the talent alone is not enough, we also have the grit. I think the third thing is they believe in their systems, they’ve totally bought into the systems we run. The fourth thing, they believe in each other and they play for each other.”
The Wolfpack don’t have the most spectacular record this season, they are sitting at 24-15-7. It’s been a lot of close, one-goal games in which the players haven’t been able to get over the hump.
“We faced a lot of adversity throughout the season, which I think helped us because we were used to playing in tie games or losing by a goal or winning by a goal,” Millard said. “The girls understand what it’s like to have to play without a whole lot of margin of error and that’s where the hard work and the grit and the talent come in.”
The Wolfpack made it out of pool play in districts with the top seed. In the opening-round game on Feb. 10, Hartford trailed the Connecticut Ice Cats 2-0 heading into the third period. The Wolfpack netted two goals to force a tie, 2-2. That same day, the Wolfpack dispatched Connecticut Northern Lights Silver, 6-0. The following weekend against a good Mid Fairfield CT Stars squad, Hartford eked out a 4-3 victory.
In the semifinals on Feb. 24, the Wolfpack trailed 1-0 late in the third period, pulled their goalie and tied the game on a Skylar Kline goal with 33 seconds remaining. A 16-minute overtime session didn’t settle the score, so the two teams went into a five-player shootout. Liz Fernandez netted a goal and Grace Puskar got the game-winner as the Wolfpack won 2-0 on their fourth shooter.
Goalie Morgan Dall was phenomenal in the extra session.
“Our goalie stood on her head and saved all four of their attempts,” Millard said. “There was a lot of drama.”
Scoring a win in that fashion just hours before the championship game was a big boost for the Wolfpack players.
“To win in overtime just shows how mentally tough they are,” Millard said. “I think we had a lot of energy and a lot of excitement and momentum going into the championship game.”
Familiar foe Mid Fairfield was the opponent in the title match. The Wolfpack controlled the game and pulled off a 2-0 victory.
“It was an emotional day,” Millard said. “It was an unbelievable accomplishment.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.