During the regular season, the Mid Fairfield Stars Tier I 19U girls team couldn’t solve the Connecticut Polar Bears.
Mid Fairfield lost both its games against the Polar Bears and fell in New England District play as well. However, the Stars got the rematch they desired in the USA Hockey New England District championship game and scored a 4-3 victory when it needed it most to punch a ticket to the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships.
“We won it and some people were a little surprised, but they worked hard toward it,” Mid Fairfield Stars co-director Tom Blackwell said.
Blackwell noted Stars 19U coach Mike Finoia did a great job of regrouping his girls after the loss to the Polar Stars in pool play.
“Mike Finoia did an outstanding job at regionals just getting these girls to pretty much buy in — all for one, one for all situation and saying, ‘C’mon, you guys are better than this,’” Blackwell said. “He really rallied them and got them to play like they’re capable of playing.”
Mid Fairfield (17-4-3) opened district play on Nov. 16 with a 3-2 victory over the New Hampshire Cyclones at Cyclones Arena in Hudson, New Hampshire. The following morning, the Stars fell 1-0 to the Polar Bears before bouncing back to beat the Connecticut Eagles 5-2.
In the championship game, the Stars had to hang on to beat the Polar Bears 4-3. That gave Mid Fairfield the automatic bid to nationals, but the Polar Bears later received an at-large invite for the national tournament.
It’s big for the 19U group to get to nationals.
“Last year, we had a little hiccup and didn’t make it into nationals and that’s the first time since I’ve been involved with the program that Mid Fairfield hasn’t had the 16 and 19 teams at nationals,” Blackwell said.
All season long, the returning players who came of short of nationals last year had an extra desire to return.
“There were a bunch of disappointed girls,” Blackwell said. “There’s probably six or seven that are back this year.”
Blackwell is hoping the Stars can make a run at the title.
“I think they can compete in every game,” he said.
Connecticut Polar Bears advance at Tier I 16U
It’s been a while since the Connecticut Polar Bears Tier I 16U girls team has been to nationals but coming into the season, coach Janice Yang knew her club had a good shot.
The Polar Bears went into the district tournament looking to knock off the defending champion Mid Fairfield Stars. In a best-of-three series, the Polar Bears needed just a pair of games — 3-2 and 4-2 victories — to take care of business and get to nationals.
“The majority of our team is first-year 16s, so to be able to achieve something like this — as a first-year you’re playing against kids that are older than you, bigger and stronger, so it’s a nice achievement,” Polar Bears coach Janice Yang said. “I think they’re excited, but I think they’re also excited to see how far they can go because during the year we took on teams ranked in top five and we beat them. We’re able to play with the best.”
After a 3-2 victory on Nov. 11, the Polar Bears didn’t waste any time against the Stars in the second game on Nov. 17 in Northford, Connecticut.
“We kind of just jumped on them right away, I think it was 2-0 after the first,” Yang said. “Then we got one in the second and it was 3-0 and we were pretty much in control. When you’re in control obviously sometimes you take a step back.”
The Stars made it a 3-2 game, but when the Polar Bears scored an empty net goal, the celebration was on. Along with the Polar Bears receiving the automatic bid out of the New England District, the Stars got an at-large bid.
The Polar Bears are looking to have a good showing at nationals.
“I definitely think the national championship is the goal,” Yang said. “I think this group has competed with some of the best teams and has done well. It’s a short tournament, a lot of good teams, a lot of good players, but we know if we do our system and our brand of play, we’re going to be successful.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.