BURLINGTON – The BFA-St. Albans and Rutland girls hockey teams entered Wednesday’s Division I championship game with two very different goals in mind.
The fourth-seeded Comets were looking for their 11th state championship and the third-seeded Raiders were looking to grab their first ever championship, and become the first team that wasn’t BFA or Essex to come away with the title.
The Raiders made history at Gutterson Fieldhouse by becoming just the third team to capture a girls high school hockey title since the Vermont Principal’s Association started to fund the sport in 2002 with a 2-1 win over BFA.
“It feels great to come away with this championship, these kids deserve it and worked their tails off all season long for this,” said Rutland assistant coach Emily Reynolds. “We knew we had a chance from the start of the season, because we had a special group of girls.”
It was a tough game for the Comets, who were looking for their first title since 2013 and were in a prime position to build off its momentum after taking down top-seeded Essex in Monday’s semifinal.
In the end, it wasn’t meant to be with the Comets starting the game a little sluggish and falling behind 2-0 in the first 16 minutes of the game.
“Rutland is a very physical team and go right at you,” said BFA coach Luke Cioffi. “They take away space very well and cause a lot of turnovers, which they did tonight. They have some players that can score and their defense is very good. They made it difficult to generate chances out there.”
Already with a 1-0 lead in the first minute of the second period, the Raiders took advantage of a faceoff in the Comets zone.
Center Angelina Tommola won the faceoff cleanly and Caitlin Laird picked up the puck and fired a shot that hit off the inside of the far post and in for the 2-0 lead and what ended up being the game-winning goal.
“That start was huge for us tonight,” said Reynolds. “When we last played at our place (2-0 BFA win), that was a frustrating game and their goalie was phenomenal and we couldn’t get a shot past her. Getting that first goal kind of settled the nerves for us and helped us get confident we could get pucks past her.”
Rutland capitalized in a big way by the Comets tough start and made them pay for some rough passing.
A little over 10 minutes into the first period, Meghan Hamilton picked off a BFA clearing attempt in between the circles and fired a shot past Maddie Hungerford (26 saves).
“They put some good pressure and forced us to make decisions we normally wouldn’t,” said Cioffi. “They intercepted and got a goal out of it.”
After falling behind by two, the Comets found its new life and started to get more pressure on Rutland goalie Carolyn Laird (13 saves).
They were finally rewarded when they went up on a 5 on 3 late in the second period. After the first penalty expired, BFA finally found the back of the net when Kait Laroe slipped a pass to the front of the net where Peyton Dukas tipped a shot past Laird to make it a one-goal game.
“I liked the way we responded after falling behind two early on,” said Cioffi. “The first period was low-intensity for us, but the girls came out in the second and played with some passion.”
From there, the Raiders defense stepped up, as the Comets were only able to get three shots off in the third period, including being buried in their own zone for the final 1:07.
“The plan was to get the puck deep and we just couldn’t get it out of our zone,” said Cioffi. “Unfortunately, tonight we had some pucks bouncing in front of the net, but they just didn’t bounce the way we needed to tonight.”
The Raiders made a gameplan to battle against the Comets through studying their two regular-season matchups, which both teams came away with wins.
They did a good job shutting down the speed of BFA on the bigger ice surface.
“None of us are used to playing on a surface this big,” said Reynolds. “We noticed they like to play three lines, and we were comfortable with our two lines and weren’t about to change it up.”
The Comets finished the season with a 15-8 record, which was a big statement after starting the season with a 2-5 record.
After facing off against a good out-of-conference schedule early on against good competition, BFA settled into its own to finish the season strong.
“We always look at the season as a building process playing the teams from New York, Hanover, N.H. and other programs early on and that only helps us in the long run,” said Cioffi. “I think those games early in the year helped us see what we could do and couldn’t do and that helped us grow as a team. I think people saw us as not being as good this year with how we started the season, but we used that to our advantage to build up toward the end of the year.”
With the help of the senior class of Kamren Dukas, Georgia Babb, Kaylee O’Brien, Shea Dukas, Emma Hill, Kait Laroe, Jessie Casey and Gabbi Metz has helped set the Comets up for a future success as a program.
The Comets had a number of underclassmen provide a lot of production this season and are set up well for the future with returning players including leading scorer Mckenna Remillard, Linsey Larrow, Megan Connor and Hungerford.
“We are in a good position for the future,” said Cioffi. “We played a lot of freshmen and sophomores in key situations throughout the year and their hockey knowledge continues to grow. They were making better decisions later in the season than they were earlier on. And our seniors helped us turn this season around after the early part of the season and helped change the culture of this group and has helped set this program up to continue something special in the future.”