HIGHGATE – Wednesday’s regular-season opener between the Missisquoi and Rice girls’ hockey teams was an up-and-down battle on both sides.
After giving up a two-goal lead in the third period, the Thunderbirds took advantage of one of the few opportunities it had late in the game. Olivia Thayer intercepted a pass in the offensive zone and found the back of the net to give the Thunderbirds a 4-3 win to start the season off with a big win.
“Rice is a good team and played well out there today,” said Missisquoi coach Wynn Paradee. “This was a good game against a very good team to begin the season. This was an exciting game with a late game-winner. Being the first game, there were mistakes on both sides, but I’m happy with a lot of what we saw out there.”
Missiquoi held on to a two-goal lead for most of the game before Rice scored two goals in a 30-second span midway through the third period to tie things up.
With five minutes to go in the game, the Thunderbirds were called for a hooking penalty, but the penalty kill and goalie Mikayla Hull stood tall to kill it off.
Right after the penalty was killed off, Thayer picked off a Rice clearing attempt, skated the puck past a defender and took a wrist shot from inside the circle that glanced off the goalie and in for the game-winning goal.
The game-winning goal was the type of play Paradee has come to expect out of his assistant captain coming through in the clutch.
“Olivia is one of the top four or five players in the league and is such a smart hockey player,” he said. “She looks for her openings and does a good job taking advantage of her opportunities and has really picked her game up.”
Hull had a phenomenal game in between the pipes for the Thunderbirds, as she finished with 23 saves, including some good stops while the team was on the penalty kill.
She led the charge to help the team kill off all four penalties, including a big five-minute major in the second period.
“Mikayla might have played the best game tonight that I have ever seen her play,” said Paradee. “The goals weren’t her fault out there. What I liked most about her game tonight was her quickness to cover up the rebounds. She had a fantastic game out there.”
Renee Bouchard set the tone early for Missisquoi with a pair of goals to get the team an early lead. Five minutes into the game on a 4-on-4, Bouchard had a strong play to keep the puck in the offensive zone and took a slapshot that got over the blocker of Rice goalie Becca Tudor (seven saves).
Less than a minute into the second period, Bouchard tallied her second goal of the game after she outhustled a Rice defender to the puck and fired another slapshot that snuck just inside the far post to give the team a 2-0 lead at the time.
“I told the girls during warm up that their goalie wasn’t the biggest player, so to shoot high on her,” said Paradee. “And Renee does have a rocket of a shot and she used that to her advantage on those goals.”
Rice picked up its first goal shortly after when Clare Sheahan took a wristshot from the slot that ricocheted off a Missisquoi defender and into the net.
Thayer responded quickly when she scored her first goal of the game three minutes later from behind the net to give her team another two-goal lead.
Rice took the momentum over when Missisquoi was called for a five-minute boarding penalty with just over five minutes to go in the game, despite not being able to find the back of the net.
Rice got back-to-back goals in the third period from Abby McKeown and Sheahan to tie the game up, 3-3, on almost identical goals from in between the circles.
“We did a good job of just getting shots on the net,” said Rice coach Aaron Miller. “Have to give kudos to (Missisquoi) they did a good job killing off the penalties and coming up with the big save or big shot when they needed it. But I was happy with the way our girls worked to make this a game in the third period. Unfortunately, just couldn’t take advantage of the powerplays.”
Both teams went back and forth through the rest of the period, but it was the Thunderbirds’ penalty kill that came up big late to set up Thayer’s late goal to send the home team away with a win.
It was a strong win for the Thunderbirds to kick off the season, and gave Paradee a good indication of what the team needs to work on before heading into its next game when they travel to Harwood on Saturday.
“After having only one scrimmage this preseason after a few practices, we weren’t exactly sure what we needed to work on most,” said Paradee. “We figured that out today, and we have to work on our breakout. They pinned us all along the boards all game long, so we have to work on not relying on just throwing it up the boards to get it out. Also, we have to put more shots on goal. You aren’t going to win too many games with only 11 shots on goal.
“But, overall it was a good game for us to start the season,” he added. “You learn a lot more from these one-goal games and having to play through some adversity than you do in a blowout game, so this was a good starting point for us.”
NOTE: Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyLabor live game tweets and stories. I will add more photos up here from Wednesday’s game at some point on Thursday, so check back for more photos.