Booth (3/2/21)- COVID 19 will go down as an omnipresent story of the youth hockey world in the 2020/2021 season. Rink closures, cancellations, reschedules, getting dressed in parking lots, masks, and an environment of unknown are some of the big distractions the kids faced. This past weekend the U16 AA Little Flyers proved that the MAWHA league has something even bigger to try to figure out as our girls put up 4 straight shutouts against the best the league could throw at them.
It started with arguably the toughest draw in the tournament schedule with a Friday late afternoon game that conflicted with many of the players school schedule when they faced the defending Champion Lady Islanders. The next distraction was travel delays related to traffic that shortened pregame rituals. But then came Coach Grant’s pregame talk. It both inspired and foreshadowed the girl’s performance. He calmed the girl’s nerves, focused them on the strategy, and built them in a crescendo of quiet determination and closed with, “the game is bigger than any one individual and your going to need to come together as a team if you want to win this thing”. When the puck dropped the girls were ready and they needed to be. The Lady Islanders were an unknown throughout the season, but their play was evidence that they showed up to defend their title. The first period was scoreless for the first half until Sophie Grant got the puck to Annie Dignazio to provide the lead. The Lady Islanders raised their play another notch in response, but our girls held them off and finished the first period with a 1-0 lead. The second period started better than the first and Kaila Booth was able to get the puck to Victoria Hayes to build the lead to 2-0. Then came the next distraction, the penalty bug bit our girls. They responded by coming together killing off 3 straight penalties including more than a minute and a half of 5 on 3. The successful penalty kills provided an emotional boost and Coach Grant’s strategy of puck control started to drive a wedge between the two teams. The second period ended with a 2-0 lead. The third period showed more of the same puck control and our girls put 12 shots on net to the Islanders 3. The game ended with the scoreboard showing 2-0 for tender Sydney Babin’s first shutout of the tournament.
The next hurdle for our girls came from the cross-town rivals, the Junior Flyers. The always drama filled matches between these two teams could be called the clash of the Titans and this game was no different. The first period was scoreless and you could cut the tension with a knife as the second period started. Then, almost as an exclamation point on the lights out performance of all the Little Flyers defensive players, Bonnie Mundy scored what turned out to be the game winning goal. The goal put all the pressure on their opponents. Our girls turned up the heat with constant pressure on the puck and mind-numbing presence in the offensive zone that resulted in additional goals by Jenna Calchi and Sophie Grant. The game ended 3-0 with the scoreboard showing 3-0 for tender Leah Grassia’s first shutout of the tournament.
The next obstacle our girls faced was finishing second in tournament standings due to a goal differential tie breaker in favor of the Lady Patriots. The net result was our girls faced the Junior Flyers in back to back games. Coach Grant also produced a repeat performance with his pregame talk. He brought the girls through their previous day’s performance of coming together as a team. He called out individual players for turning early bad shifts into “best ever” individual performances. He called out the entire team for supporting each other throughout the entire day. The talk certainly helped our girls keep their focus through a distraction filled game that started late because of a protest of the goal pegs alignment. The game also was interrupted in progress due to the opponent protesting what turned out to be their misunderstanding of the rules of the game. Our girls were able to ignore all the hyperbole and Katie Smiley got the puck to Sophie Grant early in the first period. Roughly 7 minutes later Katrina Conway and Katie Smiley got the puck to Sophie Grant for the second goal of the period. The Junior Flyers responded with aggressive play that showed they were not ready to go home. Our girls rose to the challenge and the second period ended 2-0 lead for our girls. The third period continued the pattern of the second until Annie Dignazio scored the final goal of the game. When the final buzzer sounded the scoreboard showed 3-0 for tender Sydney Babin’s second shutout of the tournament.
The final obstacle of the weekend was the physical and mental stress of three emotional shutout wins at the near end of the craziest hockey season on record. At the initial puck drop there was a palpable wear and tear on both teams. The teams played evenly for throughout the first until Annie Dignazio got the puck to Victoria Hayes for the first goal with less than 2 minutes in the period. The game remained with the slimmest of margins in both play and scoring throughout the middle of the second when the Little Flyers puck control started to weigh heavy on the Islanders play. The period ended with an uneven shot count but the score remained 1-0. The third period also showed the tenacity of both teams to keep fighting for the next goal. Then late in the third the Islander’s sniper let lose a shot that Leah Grassia pushed inches wide of the net. That is when the best distraction possible occurred with the Little Flyers cheering section kicked in. Each time the girls got into tough spots the fans picked them up and helped the girls push through. Then, facing an extra attacker and with 1:13 left in the game, Sophie Grant, ignoring her coach and all hockey sense, got the puck from Annie Dignazio who was behind our net, and rifled a shot the length of the rink to put the dagger the Islanders hope of overtime. As she came to the bench she acknowledge that she was told not to ice the puck and said, “that’s why I scored instead”. The Lady Islanders took the ice for the last and showed they still had life and wanted to win. Little Flyer Victoria Hayes responded by getting the puck to Charlotte Labre who scored the final goal with 47 seconds left. Thus ended the 2020-2021 MAHWAH U16 AA Tournament with Leah Grassia getting her second 3-0 shutout of the Tournament.
The post game locker room was a site to see with Coach Mark Moonwalking in his crocks and each of the girls faces as Coach Grant hand them each their medal. The U16 Little Flyers entire team came together this weekend and each girl showed what can happen when their teammates, the coaches, and the fans support them. Congratulations Girls! We look forward to seeing more inspiring play in Districts.