WATERBURY — The No. 4 Harwood-Northfield girls hockey team advanced to the Division I semifinals with Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over No. 5 CVU at the Ice Center in Waterbury.
The Highlanders won the Division II championship in 2013, but the program has struggled with declining participation in recent years. This season’s new cooperative agreement with nearby Northfield has given the team more depth and talent — and the ability to compete with the top teams.
the Redhawks came out showing more speed early in the quarterfinal, and controlled most of the zone play in the first period.
“Early I wasn’t pleased with our intensity,” Harwood-Northfield coach Mike Vasseur said. “I wasn’t happy with our positioning and I thought they were the dominant team for most of the first period.”
Although CVU controlled the early play, Harwood-Northfield got on the scoreboard first. Defenseman Lilianna Ziedins netted the all-important first goal, rising to the occasion as a senior captain. She picked up the puck at center ice, skated by two CVU defenders and fired a shot off the post to the left of CVU goalie Kylie McClure. It hit the post and bounced in to put Harwood-Northfield in front 1-0.
The Redhawks pressured the goal and just missed when Flynn Hall had an open look and fired a hard wrist shot that went off Harwood-Northfield goalie Kaylee Thayer’s (26 saves) glove and over the net. The Redhawks got another chance and this time buried it when Payton Skillen received a pass from Nicole Wright and beat Thayer on another shot that was similar to Harwood-Northfield’s goal, hitting the post and going in. After the first period, the game was tied at 1.
CVU came out strong in the second, with Thayer forced to make two difficult glove saves in the first two minutes. Harwood-Northfield earned a golden opportunity when CVU got whistled for a slashing and checking penalty on the same play, setting up a 5-on-3 advantage for two minutes. Just as the penalties were about to expire, several Harwood-Northfield players jammed on a loose puck in front of CVU goalie Kiley McClure (14 saves). Erica Dow knocked it in to put Harwood-Northfield up 2-1.
The territorial play was much more even in the second period, but CVU did have a few scoring chances. Hailey Brickey blocked a shot on a CVU two-on-one rush with Thayer making a stop on the rebound.
“Kaylee came up huge for us during this game,” Vasseur said. “I really believe she’s one of the top goalies in the league. You don’t go on too far in this league without good goaltending because too many pucks get to the net. Goaltending was critical to the win tonight.”
Harwood scored a key goal late in the second period. Ziedins broke in cleanly and fired a shot top-shelf on McClure’s blocker side for a 3-1 lead.
The Redhawks came out on fire in the first minute of the third period, firing off three quick shots but coming up empty. CVU closed the gap to one goal at 11:42 of the third when defenseman Alicia Veronneau’s shot from the blue line found the back of the net. After that goal, the Harwood-Northfield defense really clamped down on the Redhawks.
“I’m proud of all four of our defensemen (Ziedins, Brickey, Molly Yacavoni and Olivia Kaplan),” Vasseur said. “I think it’s one of the strengths of our team along with our goaltending. Our four D play well, they move the puck well, they pass to each other well. I think, all in all, we have as good a four defensemen as anyone.”
The Highlanders extended the lead to 4-2 midway through the third period when Sarah Garvin skated into the slot and fired a high wrist shot past McClure.
“That goal swung the momentum back to us and away from CVU,” Vasseur said. “It set the tone for the rest of the game.”
The No. 4 Highlanders (9-9-2) will host No. 8 Woodstock (7-12-3) later this week. The Wasps upset No. 1 Burr and Burton to reach the semifinals.