Highlanders hold off Thunderbirds

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HIGHGATE – The Missisquoi and Harwood boys hockey teams have made it a habit of turning their games into shootouts this season.

The Highlanders took the first game of the season by an 8-5 score and continued the trend of winning another high-scoring game by three goals with a 7-4 win over the Thunderbirds on Saturday night at Highgate Arena.

“We have to give Harwood a lot of credit, they are very good at cycling the puck,” said Missisquoi coach Chris Hatin. “They did a great job cycling the puck all night and our guys would get tired, so they executed really well out there tonight.”

The Thunderbirds fell behind by two goals after the first period before starting to show some life in the second. They got the game to within one early on, but the teams traded off the next four goals with Missisquoi never being able to find the equalizer, but continued to battle.

After the Thunderbirds got the score to within one for the third time in the second period, Harwood picked up a goal in the final minute of the frame, which took all the momentum away from Missisquoi.

Harwood’s Connor Beck won a faceoff in the Missiquoi zone and flipped a backhand that found its way through traffic and into the back of the net for the 5-3 game and what ended up being the deciding goal. Missisquoi never found its groove again after the late goal.

“Late goals in a period like that is frustrating,” said Hatin. “We battled back to within one so many times and then make a mental mistake and the other team is going to make you pay for it and they did. Those mental mistakes we can learn from and correct though.”

Harwood (12-4-1) added two goals in the first four minutes of the third to extend the lead to 7-3 and never looked back. Missisquoi’s last tally came on the powerplay after Harwood was called for a five-minute major when Beck was ejected from the game for spearing.

Missiquoi was called for three penalties in the final 10 minutes of the period, which forced them to have to defend more than attack late in the game and Harwood goalie Sean Russell (22 saves) made some big saves to make sure his team held on to the comfortable lead.

After entering the game with the team down 7-3, Logan LaBelle entered the game in net and did all he could to give the Thunderbirds a glimmer of hope stopping 11 shots, including some acrobatic saves.

But in the end, the Thunderbirds couldn’t find the offense they had in the second period dropping their second game in a row.

“We have to do a better job working together moving forward and not trying to do everything on our own,” said Hatin. “We saw in the second period that good things will happen when we work together and trust each other.”

Beck got the scoring midway through the first period after the Thunderbirds turned the puck over behind their own net, and Cole Spaulding picked up the loose puck and slipped it to Beck for the one-timer.

Colin Green added a goal late in the first with a wide-open wrist shot from the left circle.

After the first intermission, Missisquoi started to show some life on offense scoring three goals in the frame, but also gave up three goals. Eli Rivers scored two goals for the Highlanders in the period and Beck added his goal late in the period.

Sam Bouchard, Timmy Fournier and Braylen Parent scored for Missisquoi in the period. Fournier was also awarded a penalty shot in the second, but his attempt sailed wide of the post.

“We showed a lot of heart in that second period and that’s what I’m trying to get the kids to focus on, the positives,” said Hatin. “We want to continue to focus on the good things out of this game. We did a good job getting shots on in the second and we showed we can play with this team when we do that.”

It was a tough loss for the Thunderbirds, who fell to 8-8-1 on the year with three games this week to round out the season.

They start the week traveling to Lyndon on Monday followed by a trip to Burlington Wednesday and host Milton (7-7-3) on Saturday to finish out the regular season and hope to pick up some momentum along the way.

“It’s going to be some tough three games in a six-day stretch to end the season,” said Hatin. “We have to continue to focus on the positives and build off those positives if we want to build up some momentum in the final week.”

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