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Assabet Valley 14U girls look to add to their trophy case at nationals

By Sean Smyth - Special to USAHockey.com, 03/11/14, 1:00PM MDT

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MARLBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sunday’s matchup between Assabet Valley and the Boston Junior Eagles for the Massachusetts Tier I 14-and-Under girls’ championship wasn’t conducted in a vacuum. These teams were familiar with each other, thanks to league play and various area tournaments.

Nine matchups had yielded seven wins for Assabet Valley and two for the Eagles.

Showdown No. 10 went the way many of the previous ones had — Assabet Valley captured a 4-1 victory, with two late goals (including an empty-netter) providing breathing room and making things seem a little more lopsided than they were.

It was announced after the game that both teams would advance to the USA Hockey National Championships, which take place early next month right here at the New England Sports Center complex.

“These are two of the three best teams in Massachusetts. We always have close games,” said Eric Gray, Assabet Valley’s coach.

“These are two nice teams. We’ve had good competition against each other all year, and last year.”

For Assabet Valley, which captured 12U and 14U national championships in 2012, Sunday’s victory provided some level of redemption. Assabet lost in the Massachusetts semifinals last year in overtime to the East Coast Wizards — ending its hopes of defending its national crown.

Assabet performed well throughout this year’s tournament, outscoring its competition 27-6 in five games.

Even though Sunday’s game was not the closest by score, it was competitive throughout.

Assabet Valley scored first 12:39 into the first period when a shot from forward Melissa Alexander snuck over the shoulder of Boston Junior Eagles goalie Kelly Pickreign. Assabet carried the play for much of the first and second periods, getting multiple chances at the Eagles’ net. The Eagles were outshot 18-9 over that stretch.

Assabet took a 2-0 lead 12:38 into the second period when defenseman Emma English stuffed a rebound home past Pickreign.

The game was far from over, however. The Eagles came out strong in the third period, and they made it a one-goal game soon enough. The Eagles took advantage of their second power play of the game, and defenseman Taylor Matherson connected on a slap shot from the blue line at 9:04 of the third period.

Assabet was able to ward off any further comeback attempt. It regained a two-goal edge at 12:42 on a redirect by Alexander for her second goal of the game, just two seconds after the end of a power play.

The Eagles got another power-play opportunity in the waning moments and then pulled their goalie to get a 6-on-4 situation. That plan backfired, though, and Assabet added a short-handed empty net goal with just 6.3 seconds remaining.

Gray pointed to the depth his team had as a big factor for Assabet’s success; it rolled out four lines on the Eagles.

“We had a little more gas in the tank,” he said.

Assabet knows what to expect in the national tournament, with some members of the team owning two national championships, and everyone having captured at least one. Gray knows his squad will be ready for the challenge of competing on the big stage again.

“This is a strong group,” said Gray, “that plays competitively, and matches up well with other teams. We have great camaraderie.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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The rival Boston Jr. Eagles made it a game with three third-period goals, but fell short