IRVINE, Calif. – Mike Mullowney knew the best was yet to come. He just didn’t know when it would happen. Or how.
It turns out that he was right as the Boston Jr. Eagles saved their best for last to win the Girls Tier I 19U title at the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships with a 2-1 win over Shattuck-St. Mary’s.
The Eagles jumped out to an early lead and then held on for dear life as Shattuck was not about to abdicate their crown without a fight, outshooting the Eagles 42-10 but coming up just short.
“I’m not so sure the better team won today. They were all over us,” Mullowney said as his girls hugged and posed for pictures at center ice. “But it was another gritty performance by our girls, especially in the last five minutes.”
The title game lived up to its billing as the top two seeds went toe-to-toe for a full 51 minutes.
Shattuck coming in as the three-time defending champs. But the Jr. Eagles had their sites set at the top of the mountain. Cruising through the preliminary round in workmanlike fashion before surviving a pair of close games to get here, including a 3-2 overtime thriller in the semifinals against Chicago Mission.
“I’m exhausted and I wasn’t even playing,” Mullowney said. “We had six really hard games this week. I think that helped us get ready for today.”
As he has all tournament, Mullowney stuck to his goalie rotation going with Madison Beck after Caroline Kukas’ 27-save performance in the semifinals.
“Our goalies have been rocks for us all year long,” Mullowney said.
And Beck was again today, standing strong in the face of unrelenting pressure down the stretch, stopping 41 shots against Shattuck’s potent offense that had been firing on all cylinders from the first day of the tournament. After racking up double-digit victories against the Anaheim Lady Ducks and Mid-Fairfield Stars, the top seed advanced to the finals after taking down the NJ Colonials and Belle Tire in Sunday’s elimination round.
But it was the Jr. Eagles that got on the board first when Maddie Crowley-Cahill forced a turnover in the neutral zone and Lily Feeney and Maya Mangiafico worked the give-and-go to perfection for an easy tap in for Feeney’s fourth goal of the tournament.
They made it 2-0 when Feeney seemed to deflect a Jenna Seibold point shot caught Shattuck goalie Suzette Faucher by surprise.
“I didn’t know how it went in,” Mullowney said. “They gave the goal to Seibold, who got good wood on the shot. But it seemed to surprise their goalie so I don’t know if it was tipped or what.”
Shattuck cut the lead late in the second period when Hadley Hartmetz jumped into the play and took the puck to the net where Sydney Breza was there to poke it home to cut the lead to 2-1.
They continued to press for the equalizer in the final frame, hitting a couple of posts and missing several open nets as fans for both teams held their collective breath as the clock ticked down.
“We created a lot of traffic and tried to hack and whack to get one more goal,” Stafford said. “But that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Monday’s matchup was a clash of two programs that employed different philosophies to get here.
The Eagles are one of several split-season teams competing at Nationals. They played the prescribed number of games early in the season and were crowned the Massachusetts State Champions during a tournament that wrapped up around Thanksgiving. At that point players went on to compete for their high school or prep school teams before reuniting several weeks ago for four practices before boarding the long cross-country flight to the West Coast.
Shattuck is one of the premier prep schools in the country and a mainstay on the USA Hockey National Championship stage. A number of their players have enjoyed many seasons playing together, and it shows on the ice. They have 15 seniors on their roster who have long histories wearing the maroon and white, including three who have been together since the eighth grade.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our girls,” said Shattuck head coach Gordie Stafford. “They are hockey players, and not just girls who play hockey. I’m going to miss being around them. This was a group that brought passion and joy to the rink every day.”
Monday was also bittersweet for Mullowney, who had coached many of the Jr. Eagles, including his daughter Deirdre, since they were together on a 10U team.
“To think that I’m never going to coach many of these girls again is really emotional,” he said. “It’s congratulations and goodbye all at the same time. It’s a strange feeling.”