TAYLOR, Mich. -- Watching the HoneyBaked 19-and-Under girls beat Little Caesars 2-1 in the Michigan state finals on Sunday at the Taylor Sportsplex, it would be hard to fathom that the team had battled through bouts of inconsistency this season.
“We certainly have had our ups and downs this season,” coach Ryan Pardoski said in the midst of the celebration on the ice following the title win. “Sometimes we play really well and other times we struggle a bit. It’s a team that is young and, for most of the players, this is their first season playing together.”
That lack of experience at times led to inconsistency issues.
As the season has progressed, HoneyBaked has improved from game to game and put it all together in the state tournament when it mattered most.
“Everybody contributed tonight and it was a great team effort. Playing as a team is something that we have stressed all year,” said Pardoski, who is in his fourth year as coach of the 19U team. “Looking back I think we had a very successful season and everything we went through as a team was leading up to this final. Winning the state title was our main goal all year and you prepare for this moment through out the season. I am very happy for the girls, they worked hard all year and all the credit goes to them.”
The first period was a total domination for HoneyBaked, and they were rewarded quickly.
Taylor Ann Callahan tapped in a rebound at the 50-second mark to give HoneyBaked the early lead. HoneyBaked increased their lead at the 15:31 mark. Nicole Russel from a wild scramble in front of the net scored on an assist from Kortney Diaz. The first period ended with HoneyBaked leading 2-0.
“It was really crucial to score that first goal,” said forward Lea Boreland, who led a ferocious forecheck that led to a number of turnovers and scoring chances for HoneyBaked. “It happened on the second shift of the game and got us off to a good start, and I thought from there we controlled most of the game.”
HoneyBaked defended their two-goal lead in the second period, and even though Little Caesars outshot them 10-8, most of their shots came from the perimeter. The one scoring opportunity came on a HoneyBaked breakaway that was stymied by a great save from goaltender Claire Lachner. Lachner played a pivotal part in keeping Little Caesars in the game with timely saves.
“The whole team played well through the first two periods, especially on defense,” said Boreland, who has a championship pedigree with HoneyBaked, having won a national title two years ago in Macomb, Mich. “We have had outstanding goaltending all year by both Maddison Murray and Jessica Convery. Jess was amazing this afternoon, making a lot of good saves and keeping the 2-0 lead intact through two periods.”
HoneyBaked ran into penalty trouble late in the third period. With a two-man advantage, Little Caesars pulled their goaltender for a 6-3 power play and it paid off.
Ana Orzechowski scored from the slot with 1:27 to go, but that was as close as they would come with the final buzzer setting off a mad celebration and a trip for HoneyBaked to the USA Hockey National Championships next month in Marlborough, Mass.
“In the final minutes I was concerned about the girls’ frame of mind, having to kill all those penalties,” said a happy Pardoski. “I thought they were getting a little to zealous, but they held on.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.