By ANTHONY LABOR JR.
For the Essex Reporter
BURLINGTON — A year ago, the Hornets watched longtime rival BFA-Albans skate around Gutterson Fieldhouse with the championship trophy after the Comets’ 2-0 victory.
The script flipped Thursday, when the second-seeded Hornets got a little redemption in this year’s Division I championship game, taking down the top-seeded Comets by the same 2-0 score to claim their seventh championship.
“We remembered how we felt after the championship game last season and we were really disappointed, so we were happy to get back this year,” said Essex captain Madeline Young. “It feels good to come back this year and have another battle against BFA and come out on top. It’s amazing. It’s a feeling unlike anything else. It’s unreal.”
After a first period that saw very little offense and no goals, Essex jumped on the board on a well-executed set play. Cycling the puck around, Kaylee Moody took the puck at the blue line and slipped it down to Young in the right circle. Young wristed the puck toward the net and Abigail Robbins redirected it just enough by slapping it just inside the far post past the outstretched pad of Madeline Hungerford.
Hannah Himes added the insurance goal with just over seven minutes to go in the third period. She took a pass from Sage Amaliksen, skated into the BFA zone, and sent a slapshot between three BFA defenders. The puck changed direction off a stick and found its way into the net.
“Our first goal came off something we work on a lot when we rotate the puck and cycle it down low to try and pack it in and get it D to D and to the weak side wing and something will open up. And Abi was in the soft spot in the middle,” said Essex coach John Maddalena. “Hannah has really quick hands and showed it on her goal. She knew she didn’t have much time to snap a shot off and the goalie didn’t have time to set, which is how you are going to beat a good goalie like BFA has.
“It was nice to see Hannah rewarded. She has worked so hard all year long for us, so that was great to see her get that goal in a big spot.”
Two scores were more than enough for Essex goalie Sophia Forcier, who tallied a 15-save shutout for the Hornets.
“It feels incredible,” said Forcier. “This is what we work for all season and to come out and perform like we did against a good team like BFA was amazing. We came into the game with a confident mindset and knew we just had to take it one shift at a time. And the defense played really well in front of me.”
It was the second game in a row in which Forcier came up big for the Hornets, after she made a number of big saves in crucial moments during the team’s semifinal win over Burlington/Colchester.
“I don’t think Sophie gets as much recognition around the state as she deserves, because there are a lot of very good goaltenders — including the two we just played today,” said Maddalena. “She has been amazing for us through the playoffs and tonight she really calmed the team down throughout the course of the game with her composure. She did a good job deflecting pucks to the corner and getting it out of dangerous areas, and it’s just been the way she has been all year for us.”
The defense played well all night in front of Forcier, allowing few quality shots to reach her and not letting the speedy Comets sustain offensive pressure.
“We worked on team defense for the last two weeks,” said Maddalena. “If you are going to beat BFA, you have to be near perfect defensively. This was the best play from our defense we have had all year. And they didn’t give us much at all offensively, but we took advantage of the couple of bounces we got.”
Going into Thursday’s game, the Comets and Hornets were tied 5-5 when the teams went against each other in the tournament and 3-3 in championship games.
The Hornets have a bit of an advantage on both sides now.
“It’s crazy being a part of this rivalry with BFA,” said Forcier. “It’s fun going up against a team you know is always going to be a tight competitive game, which makes the competitiveness and challenge that pushes both teams, so it’s always fun going up against them and luckily we won when it mattered most.”
Through the first 19 championships in girls hockey in Vermont, BFA and Essex have accounted for 18 titles with 11 for BFA and now seven for Essex. Rutland, in 2017, is the only party-crasher.
“I think it’s a neat rivalry we have with Essex and think it speaks a lot to the youth programs in Essex and St. Albans,” said BFA coach Luke Cioffi. “It’s pretty special going up against a team so close in proximity so many times, and these players know each other.
“Players from both teams after playing against each other tonight will turn around and play in a regional tournament on the same team tomorrow, so it’s pretty cool and it’s been a fun 18 years with our two programs and it’s always a chess match.”
It was the fourth meeting between the teams this season with BFA winning the first two by 2-1 scores followed by a 1-1 tie to close the regular season.
The Hornets didn’t let those outcomes faze them heading into the championship.
“Fourth time was the charm for us against BFA,” said Maddalena. “We knew after playing them tough through the three games in the regular season that today was going to be our day. We finally pulled through.”