HACKENSACK, N.J. — Melanie Conca scored 1:48 into the USA Hockey Girls Tier I 16U Atlantic District Tournament championship series and the New Jersey Colonials essentially had everything they needed.
The Colonials went on to sweep the best-of-three series with the New Jersey Rockets and will head off to the Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier I Nationals, April 5-9 in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
With consecutive shutouts, 1-0 and 2-0 in the district final, the Colonials will arrive at nationals with a 15-0-1 record in the new year with the help of 11 shutouts.
“We got that 1-0 lead and we held on to that the whole game,” Colonials coach Dennis Crothers said.
That stingy defense has allowed the Colonials (33-7-2) to win nine times during that unbeaten streak in games where they scored only one or two goals. Crothers said his team thrives on the high-pressure moments late in tight, low-scoring games.
Jennifer Olnowich made 15 of her 24 saves in the third period of the series opener, and then made 35 saves in the clinching game.
The series sweep sends the Colonials back to nationals. The Colonials program that won all three Tier I district titles a year ago also qualified a 19U Tier I team this season and has produced 45 Atlantic District championships since 2009.
Olnowich and Izabelle Samarin, a veteran of last year’s 16U nationals, have split time in goal during the season.
“The two of them steal games for us whenever we play,” Crothers said. “We don’t normally put up a lot of offense, so it’s huge that both can steal a game.”
The team’s 1.07 goals allowed average comes with its share of help for the talented goalies.
“As a corps, our defense goes a good job, but the top two are definitely Maddie Rego and Emily Ferguson,” Crothers said of a unit that has helped the Colonials limit opponents to four total goals in the last 15 games.
Rego and the top line of Sydney Cornell, Jenna Kurz and Conca are all veterans of last year’s nationals on this level when the Colonials went 1-2.
“That group has been playing together for a long time, so we really lean on them,” Crothers said. “Melanie’s the type of girl that if she’s not putting the puck in the net, she’s feeding the other two.”
Crothers said only three newcomers to the team have not played in nationals on some level.
Kurz assisted Conca’s goal in the series opener. Cornell and Alexa Renzo, another returnee to 16U nationals, scored second-period goals in Game 2.
The Colonials needed three games to get past the Philadelphia Junior Flyers in the 19U district championship series. Philadelphia trailed midway through the second period of the series opener, but rallied to win, 2-1, with the help of Julia Emerich’s 35 saves.
Anika Asplundh stopped 63 of 64 shots in the last two games to help the Colonials recover and win the series. Asplundh made 28 saves while Haley Uliasz contributed a goal and an assist in a 4-0 shutout in Game Two.
Emily Abruzzese scored with 2:33 left in the 17-minute overtime for a 2-1 victory. Asplundh made 35 saves, allowing just a first-period goal by Rachel Martin. Julia Wang tied the game for the Colonials in the second period.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc