Big-time players come up big in big games. And make no mistake about it, Laila Edwards is a big-time player.
With her Rochester Youth Hockey team in need of an offensive spark against the East Coast Wizards, Edwards became a one-woman wrecking crew, setting up Kirsten Simms for the tying goal, and then sniping the game winner to send her team to the 16U championship game at the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier I National Championship.
“She’s been on a roll this week,” Rochester head coach Brent Hill said of his star forward who now has 13 points in the tournament.
Mia Biotti gave the Wizards the lead toward the end of the opening period when her seeing-eye shot from the point found its way into the back of the net.
For the next period plus it looked like that lead would hold up as Abby Matusovich was rock solid in goal. But that’s when Edwards took over. The lanky forward easily won a footrace against a Wizard defender and then used her body to protect the puck at the side of the goal as she waited for Simms to streak into position to score the equalizer.
Then, with Rochester on the power play, Edwards picked up a pass on the left flank and ripped a bullet that an NHL goaltender would have had trouble stopping.
That was more than enough offense for Rochester goalie Bailey Callaway, but MaryKate O’Brien added some insurance with 18 seconds remaining to cap off an exhausting day that started with a hard-fought quarterfinals win against the Pittsburgh Pens Elite and ended with Rochester one step from the top of the mountain.
“Coming into the tournament we talked about what it was going to take to be successful,” Hill said. “Normally we play a very skilled game, but we knew that this week we would need to focus on the nuts and bolts part of the game if we were going to be successful.”
When you’re the defending champs, you walk into the rink every day with a target on your chest. The Chicago Mission expect nothing less.
Battled tested and not ready to relinquish their crown, the Mission know they’re going to get everybody’s best game, which they did here tonight as the Bay State Breakers battled until the bitter end but came up just short in a thrilling, 7-5, win by the Mission.
“Even though we’re not the No. 1 see here this week, we are the defending champs,” said Mission head coach Erin Rourke. “It’s a blessing and a curse because we get everybody’s best game. That’s what we got tonight. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure.”
The Mission jumped out to an early lead on a goal from Anna Baxter and then looked like they would blow the game open with four goals in the second. But the Breakers never backed down, scoring three times in the middle frame, including a pair by Katie Pyne, to cut the lead to 5-3.
Maggie Culp gave the Mission some breathing room early in the third when she curled around the Breakers defense and ripped a low wrist shot past goaltender Erin Murray.
Pyne would complete the hat trick when she poked home a loose puck for a power-play goal with 1:08 remaining, but Veronica Bac’s empty netter put the game away.
By the time the Mission left the ice and retreated to their locker room, they knew they had been in a battle at the end of a very long day that started with an overtime win against the Boston Jr Eagles in the quarterfinals.
“Having to play two games in 12 hours, physically it’s brutal, but mentally it’s exasperating,” Rourke said. “But we’ve trained all year for this. We know all about the mental side of what it takes to climb the mountain and to reach the peak. After a good night’s sleep, we’ll be ready to reach the summit.”
East Coast Wizards 2, MN Elite Gray 1
Despite being outshot 41 to 19, the East Coast Wizards staged the upset against the top-seeded Minnesota representatives. Isabelle Allieri staked the Wizards to a first-period lead with her second goal of the tournament on a beautiful feed from Christina Vote. They made it 2-0 in the second period when Vote’s shot was blocked and Lauren Tolve picked up the loose puck and spun around and fired a low shot past goalie Skylar Vetter. Minnesota clawed their way back into the game less than two minutes into the final frame when Rory Guilday’s point shot snuck through a maze of sticks and skates in front of Taylor Hyland, who was brilliant down the stretch, stopping 14 shots to preserve the victory. The Wizards move on to the semifinals where they will play the Rochester Youth Hockey club.
Rochester Youth Hockey 4, Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 3
Laila Edwards scored her second goal of the game midway through the final frame as Rochester won a back-and-forth affair to advance to the semifinals where they will play the East Coast Wizards. Brianna Walkom got the Pens on the board early 1:24 into the game before Edwards drew Rochester even. In the second period, Serena Slusarcyk converted a pass from Mackenzie King to put the Pens back on top before Nina Christof got the equalizer. Mallory Mauracher and Kirsten Simms traded goals early in the third period to set the stage for Edwards heroics.
Chicago Mission 3, Boston Jr. Eagles 2, OT
Emma Thomas tipped home a shot from Alex Thomas to help the Chicago Mission punch their ticket to the semifinals. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Maggie Culp and Clara Zubor, the Mission had to withstand a furious comeback by the Eagles, who got third-period goals from Jordan Kowalski and Katie Keenan. Hope Walinski helped the Eagles keep their playoff hopes alive with a 35-save performance, but was helpless when Thomas’ tip found the top corner. The Mission will face off against the Bay State Breakers in the semifinals.
Bay State Breakers 4, Shattuck-St. Mary’s 2
Abby Newhook scored a pair of goals to put the Breakers in the driver’s seat as they cruised into the semifinals with a dominating performance. Lauren McElroy scored a goal and an assist to draw Shattuck to within a goal but Ellie Bayard put the game out of reach with her second goal of the tournament. Erin Murray had another solid effort between the pipes for the Breakers with a 20-save effort.