With only seven available skaters and a demanding schedule, the Connecticut Polar Bears needed some help.
Amanda Aalto’s hand went up.
“She put her hand up and we never let her put it down,” Polar Bears coach Maurice Fitzmaurice said of the William Smith college recruit, a goalie who volunteered to skate during the USA Hockey New England District 19U Tier I Girls Tournament.
Aalto became one of eight skaters that the team used to win four games in 36 hours, including a Saturday night/Sunday morning combination of consecutive wins over the Mid-Fairfield (Connecticut) Stars. She even assisted on the tournament-deciding goal by Taylor Adams in a 2-1 victory.
“She was a goalie who was willing to go out and do it,” Fitzmaurice said.
The short-handed status, a young lineup — four players of the 13 that the Polar Bears will bring to the Chipotle-USA Hockey Nationals April 5-9 in Marlborough, Massachusetts are 16U eligible — and the strength of the opposition left Fitzmaurice acknowledging that his team clearly “was not the favorite” to win the district tournament.
“It’s one of those things where, every now and then, kids just do something that’s not explainable,” Fitzmaurice said. “I wish I could say there was some secret to it, but the kids just found some way to get through it.
“When we got the schedule, four games in 36 hours starting Friday night, and playing Mid-Fairfield both Saturday night and Sunday morning, it was exciting.”
A 1-0 win over Mid-Fairfield in the first meeting allowed the Polar Bears to finish the round-robin at 3-0 and set up a championship game rematch.
Fitzmaurice has taken teams to nationals 29 times in his career, but never in this circumstance.
New England’s decision to switch the 19U Tier I girls’ tournament to the late fall, when it was already holding some of its youth championships, was done to accommodate more teams in a district where prep school and high school hockey occupies many players in the winter. It may not have been ideal for the Polar Bears, according to Fitzmaurice, but the team persevered.
The Polar Bears got together one time in January for a series of games on a long weekend.
Connecticut is 12-0-1 by a combined margin of 75-7 since Nov. 5 to improve to 19-6-4 overall. The challenge will be getting organized in limited full practices when the team has only played four games since Thanksgiving.
Fitzmaurice has coached nine Olympians in his 33-year career, which includes seven USA Hockey national titles and 13 championship game appearances. He had a team reach at least the national semifinals every year from 1996 to 2004.
This year’s team is led by Lizzy Gross, who has committed to Brown University, and Emma Lange, who will be part of the first Division I women’s hockey team at Holy Cross. Gross helped the Selects Academy at Kent School reach the New England prep school semifinals.
Lexi Cafiero, who is committed to Colby College, and Aalto are the other players who have already made their commitments.
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Youth Tier I
14U: Mid-Fairfield Junior Rangers
18U: Yale Bulldogs
Youth Tier II
14U CT: New Canaan Wildcats
16U CT: Southern Connecticut Stars
14U NH: New Hampshire Avalanche
16U NH: New Hampshire Avalanche
14U RI: Providence Junior Friars
14U ME: Maine Moose
16U ME: Maine Moose
18U ME: Maine Moose
Girls Tier I
19U: Connecticut Polar Bears
Girls Tier II
14U: Hartford Junior Lady Wolfpack
16U: Vermont Shamrocks
19U: Concord Capital
Around Tier I
The 16U Tier I district representative was also determined in November.
Mid-Fairfield, which reached the 19U national semifinals last year, is making a return trip to nationals on the 16U level.
The Stars got back together for five games between Christmas and New Year’s. They are 26-3-2 with only one loss since July.
The Stars dominated the district tournament Nov. 17-19, winning three round-robin games by a total of 26-1, then beating the Connecticut Eagles, 5-0, in the final.
Mid-Fairfield also has the 14U representative from the district. The Stars used six second-period goals to defeat the Rhode Island Sting, 7-0, at Providence College in the district final March 18.
The full-season team is 39-15-10.
The New England District determined its Tier II teams in March 16-18 tournaments in Vermont and Maine.
The Concord (New Hampshire) Capitals captured the 19U title with consecutive one-goal wins in Auburn, Maine. They qualified with a 2-1 victory over the Vermont Shamrocks.
Vermont, last year’s national runner-up, made it back to the tournament in 16U.
The Hartford Junior Lady Wolfpack won the 14U title with a 2-1 win over the Hanover (New Hampshire) Wild.
The Casco Bay (Maine) Mariners also made the national tournament field in 14U Tier II.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc
Tag(s): District Tourney News