By the third day of the NE District Regional U16 Girls Ice Hockey tournament it had become clear that if we were going to advance to the National Championships this year in Lansing, Michigan, the road would go through the team from Maine. We were playing well, and we did not have too much trouble in wins over Connecticut and Rhode Island. But in the third game of the preliminary rounds we met a quick and skilled team from Maine with eyes clearly set on going to Nationals this year. We took the lead early. Then they came back and tied it 1-1. We again took the lead and then, with under a minute left, they scored on a nifty rebound in front of the net and the final tally is a 2-2 tie.
After a somewhat closer than we had imagined 7AM rematch against Rhode Island the girls down chocolate milk and breakfast before a pre-championship game nap and then another meal before preparations begin for the winner-takes-a-trip-to-Nationals game.
The championship game is a certified thriller. For nearly an hour the girls race up and down the ice. Near misses and beautiful goalie saves on both sides keep the hearts of the fans aflutter. Still, the game remains tied 0-0. We gain the advantage on a power play. Then Maine takes the advantage. They come at us with all the fury they can muster with a 5-3 advantage after two quick Vermont penalties. But the Shamrocks hold their ground.
Then it happens: as we watch nervous and heart fluttery and hand sweating and utterly helpless in the stands, one of the Maine girls makes a beautiful lateral slide around one of our defensive players and tucks the puck under the goalie and into the net. With 2:19 left it look to be the decisive goal.
The next couple of minutes almost happen too quickly to remember. Or perhaps what happened is that time slowed so dramatically that we can’t bring it back up to speed. What I do remember is that they dump the puck into our zone and pressure. We ice the puck and they do it again. We dump the puck deep into their zone. We chase and pressure. They ice the puck. And then, with less than a minute left in the game, we do what you do when a game is on the line. Our goalie skates furiously to the bench. An extra player jumps onto the ice. Everyone looks up at the clock. With 45 seconds left a shot flies from the point. A deflection. The puck finds the back of the net. We rise to our feet. The girls rush onto the ice. The scoreboard records the result: 1-1.
Only one team can win a championship game. Only one team can go to Michigan as the NE champion. And so into a ten-minute overtime we go. Back and forth hockey as each team presses. Shots on net. The sound of pucks hitting goalie pads. The nervous sounds of nervous fans as plays develop. A backcheck here. A forecheck there.
And then, five minutes into the overtime period, we rush down the ice once again. We launch the puck at the net. A rebound bounces off the pads of the Maine Goalie. The girls crash the net. One of the them pounces. The referee behind the net waves his arms furiously at the ice. The whole team pours over the boards and its pig pile time for the girls from Vermont.
The Rocks are going to Michigan! (USA Hockey has two stories on the team’s work at Regionals: Split-Squad Vermont Shamrocks Come Up Big in New England and Goalie Platoon Propels 16U Vermont Shamrocks.
And so, two weeks later—following another weekend of hockey for Ellinore in Maine at the New England District Development Festival—we fly to Lansing and arrive Wednesday evening. On Thursday at 2 the Shamrocks U16 team notches its first win of the 2015 national tournament, a decisive 5-0 win over the New York State West Seneca Wings. Friday we play a high tempo game against a fast-skating team form Massachusetts, the Wizards, and we end locked in a 2-2 tie at the end of regulation. Alas, they score a few minutes in to take the second game in the pool play section of the tournament. Friday, a win over Michigan 4-1 puts us into the semifinals with 7 points behind Alaska (9 points) and Massachusetts (8 points).
Saturday is single-elimination and we start the day by outmuscling a big group of girls, the Steel City Selects, from Pittsburgh, 1-0. In the evening game we play the top seeded girls from Alaska. The game was mostly ours to win. We scored first. We held the puck in their zone more than half the time. But they tied the score. And the game ended 1-1 in regulation. Then a ten-minute overtime. No score. And then, after another five minutes, in the middle of the second overtime, a funny bounce in front of the net. And the Rocks season comes to an end.
We had quite a run in the 2015 national tournament! No losses in regulation. Three wins. Two shutouts. And two overtime losses—the second the double-overtime loss in the quarterfinals that earned us a bronze medal in the tournament. (Both teams we tied and lost to in overtime went on to battle it out in the final.)
Fifteen hockey games in three weeks for Ellie. Her teams come out with eleven wins, one tie, and two overtime losses.