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Blue J's score upset, championship

By Richard Paolinelli, 04/04/07, 5:15PM MDT


SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Needham Huskies came into USA Hockey's 2007 National Championships as the Women's Senior A defending champions. They weren’t about to let go of their crown too easily.
No one knew that better than the Minnesota Blue J’s.
But the Blue J’s weren’t about to just lay down, either, as the Minnesota club upended the defending champions, 2-0, Sunday evening to capture the 2007 Senior A title.
Minnesota player/coach Jeanine Sobek scored what proved to be the championship-winning goal with just under six minutes remaining in the second period.
“It was a very good day for me,” Sobek said, moments after skating off the ice with the Nationals banner.
Angie Rieger sealed the Blue J’s victory with six minutes left in the game by redirecting a shot that just squeezed past Needham goalie Erika Silva.
Silva, who made 58 saves in the Huskies’ 2-1 win over Assabet Valley in Sunday morning’s marathon semifinal, kept the Huskies in the game by denying several quality scoring chances on the Needham net.
“[Silva] was outstanding all tournament,” Needham coach Julie Piacentini said after the loss. “She kept us in it all game long.”
Despite the disappointing finish, Piacentini was proud of her team’s defense of their title.
“After [the semifinal], they played very well. They feel like they are winners after that game despite losing in the finals,” Piacentini said. “They all played a heck of a game.”
No one knew that more than Sobek.
“We knew we had to be prepared,” Sobek said. “We knew they were going to come out here and give us a tight game.”
Minnesota’s path to the title game was much easier than Needham’s, as the Blue J’s downed Malone, 3-1, in Friday’s opener; defeated Assabet Valley, 3-1, on Saturday; and closed out round robin action with a 6-2 win over the host Pacific District Selects. Minnesota topped Buffalo/Depew, 6-0, in the semifinals, as Ali Annunziato scored four goals to send the Blue J’s into the final. 
The Blue J’s did appear to be the fresher team in the early going, forcing several turnovers in the neutral zone. Still, they could not crack Silva’s defense of the Huskies net for the first 24 minutes.
Needham had its own scoring chances, but couldn’t manage enough of an attack to threaten the Minnesota goal.
Needham’s best opportunity of the game came with eight minutes remaining, when Whitney Robbins stole an errant pass in the neutral zone and had a wide-open path to the Blue J’s net. That's where Minnesota goalie Sarah Ahlquist easily turned aside Robbins’ shot to preserve the shutout.
Needham had a super power play in the final two minutes, as a late penalty gave the Huskies a one-man advantage. Silva skated out of her net to give Needham a sixth attacker and a six-on-four advantage.
But Ahlquist would not be denied her shutout and the Blue J’s defense made sure Needham would not pull off a miracle finish.
Needham’s path to the finals began on Friday with a 4-1 win over Michigan, and followed up with a 6-3 win over Buffalo/Depew Saturday before closing out round robin action with a 5-1 victory over Team Connecticut. Sunday morning’s semifinal matched the Huskies up with the in-state Massachusetts rival of Assabet Valley, and the Huskies would need to play 10 periods of hockey before finally dispatching their rivals, 2-1, on a goal to advance to the title game.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc.