HIGHGATE – For two periods of Saturday’s Div. II quarterfinal game against No. 6 Harwood, it seemed the Missisquoi girls hockey team was falling victim to the dreaded playoff wall when they weren’t getting any of the bounces through the first 30 minutes and were trailing by a goal for most of that time.
The Thunderbirds couldn’t find the back of the net despite possessing the puck more than the Highlanders. They also even had a goal called off when Olivia Thayer jumped on a rebound and put the puck in the back of the net in the first period, but the play had been whistled dead after the referee lost sight of the puck.
Trailing 1-0 heading into the final frame and on the penalty kill for over a minute, the Thunderbirds dug deep to hold off a barrage of shots from Harwood.
Less than four minutes into the frame, Savannah Fellows finally gave the Thunderbirds the life they needed with a wraparound goal and they never looked back. Thayer scored the game-winning goal on a wraparound of her own with just over four minutes remaining and the third-seeded Thunderbirds came away with a 3-1 win over the Highlanders.
“Harwood came into the game with five wins in a row, so they have been playing as well as anybody lately,” said Missisquoi coach Wynn Paradee. “They were a good test for us today in a lot of ways, and this is the kind of game you want to start the playoffs. We learn a lot more from a hard-fought game like this than we do in a blowout, so tonight was good for us.”
Missisquoi outshot Harwood 20-9 through two periods, but still trailed 1-0 with some missed passes or shots that went wide of open nets.
The Thunderbirds were also 0 for 3 on the powerplay in the second period.
“We told the girls before the third period that we’ve been in this situation before where we were down heading into the third,” said Paradee. “We just had to keep doing what we were doing. We had two or three open nets in the third period, but just had a couple pucks bounce over a stick or shots went wide.”
It wasn’t an easy pill to swallow for the players having played so well through two periods and still showing a goose egg on the scoreboard.
They shook off the first two periods and came out playing in the third period with a purpose.
“It was hard not to be a little negative in the locker room after the second after we thought we played better than Harwood did,” said Thayer. “We decided to go around the locker room and say what teammates were doing well and that helped keep us positive and pushed ourselves to work harder in the third.”
The Highlanders started the third period on the powerplay and saw its best pressure of the game in the early minutes of the final period. After withstanding the first three minutes of the period, the Thunderbirds found their groove again.
Fellows took a chip in pass from Brianna Walker, skated around the net and slipped a backhand wraparound through the five-hole of Harwood goalie Alison Yandow (27 saves).
From there, the Thunderbirds had all the pressure with a number of good chances throughout the rest of the game. They finally found the game-winner when Thayer picked up the loose puck behind the net and put another low shot that found its way past Yandow and into the back of the net. Renee Bouchard and Adrianna Dostie picked up the assists on the goal.
“Savannah’s goal gave us the confidence we needed after we didn’t score in the first two periods,” said Thayer. “Wynn told us once the first came, the rest would follow and that’s how it went.”
Alyssa Audet added the third goal for Missisquoi when she knocked in a loose puck at the top of the crease with two seconds left in the game.
Makyla Bombardier finished the game with 18 saves for the Thunderbirds with a number of big saves with her team on the penalty kill to begin the third period to keep it a one-goal game.
“Makyla has been strong in net for us lately,” said Paradee. “Every time she goes out, she puts out a solid effort and she did that again tonight.”
Rachel Tousignant scored the lone goal for the Highlanders early in the first period. Bombardier went down to make a save on a shot from Harwood’s Erin Tyanan and the puck found its way through a scramble in front of the net to Tousignant at the point.
She put a soft backhand toward the net that Bombardier never saw as it went through all the traffic again and slipped inside the post for the early 1-0 lead.
From there, Bombardier and the Thunderbirds’ defense did the rest to shut down the Highlanders.
The Thunderbirds will travel to No. 2 Woodstock on Monday for their semifinal game. The two teams split the season series with the Wasps winning 4-2 on Jan. 21 before the Thunderbirds avenged that loss with a 4-1 victory on Senior Night.
Woodstock avoided an upset during its quarterfinal on Saturday against No. 7 Brattleboro, as it came away with a 1-0 win in overtime.
Paradee said he was pleased with the way the team played during its quarterfinal game on Saturday, but the team will need to fine tune a few small things when they take on Woodstock.
One thing he noted was the powerplay after the Thunderbirds went 0 for 4 in Saturday’s game and are 1 for 8 in the last two games.
“We did some good things in this game, which I was pleased with, but we weren’t as sharp as we can be,” said Paradee. “Special teams are huge in the postseason, so our powerplay needs to find a way to take advantage. Especially in the second period tonight, we were trying to do too much by ourselves, and we can’t do that. We started to do a better job of not doing that in the third period.
“We won’t be able to afford those small mistakes against Woodstock. We played them pretty well throughout the season. If we shore up those little things, we should be in pretty good shape.”