Kent School head coach Shawn Rousseau knew once the torch was lit, there would be no stopping his team. All the Lions needed was a spark to ignite their offensive struggles.
After coming up empty through the opening 32 minutes, Kent had 16 minutes remaining in its season to deliver.
As it turned out, that was all the time the fifth-seeded Lions would need after scoring four unanswered goals in the third period to oust second-seed Noble & Greenough 4-1 in the NEPSAC Division 1 championship held Sunday evening inside the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center.
With the victory Kent (19-4-0) claims its first NEPSAC title. Nobles, who took home the crown a year ago, finishes the year at 27-1-5.
“We started the year off great but mid-season we had our struggles,” said Rousseau. “But I attribute a lot of those struggles to our success at the end of year. To come back against a team as fast and skilled as Nobles, I think it shows a level of resiliency that takes an entire season to build. I credit these kids for having that character to win this today. It’s impressive.”
Badly out-played throughout the second period, Kent provided some resurgence during the final frame. Trailing 1-0, junior forward Millie Rose-Sirum netted the equalizer, on the power play at 5:09, with a nice cut in towards the goal. That tally seemed to inject new life into the Lions as they continued to counter the Bulldawgs’ speed and finesse at every turn.
Following Rose-Sirum’s marker, Kent never stopped believing it could penetrate Nobles’ defensive zone and come away successful. Two minutes after knotting things, the Lions took the lead for good when Cec Ehrhard, holding the puck just to the left of the goal crease, found Kiersten Goode racing in towards the net from the opposite direction. With no Bulldawg picking her up, Goode took Ehrhard’s feed and quickly swifted it past Nobles netminder Taylor Hyland, who finished with 27 stops.
Kent wasn’t quite through just yet. At 12:16, Haley Uliasz, standing just inside the left side of the blue line, let go a hard wrist shot that somehow found its way through a narrow window in the low far side of the net, making it 3-1. Julia Nearis’ empty-net tally, coming at 14:06, closed out the scoring.
“We knew coming into this it would be such a battle,” said Nearis, a senior. “The thing was to try and tire them out. The more we grinded, the more chances we got. When we score, it seems to create momentum for us this whole season. I was really happy with the way we played. Nobles beat us back on January 5th so I think that gave us a little extra drive coming into tonight.”
The Lions dominated for much of the opening period. Overcoming a couple of penalties, they still managed to withstand Nobles’ patented quickness and aggressiveness. Kent stood pat in its defensive strategy by disrupting traffic inside its defensive zone and pressuring the Bulldawgs to pass the puck off quicker then they would’ve liked.
As a result, both teams skated into the first intermission scoreless, despite the Lions hoisting 12 shots to Nobles’ six. Kent did not come out for the second the way it played over the first 16 minutes. Because of that, the Bulldawgs were able to capitalize. Katie Pyne’s spin-around shot from the left circle slipped by Lions goalie Catie Boudiette at 10:31, giving Nobles a 1-0 advantage.
“I think we were panicking a little,” Rousseau said. “We were depending too much on shot blocking in the defensive zone instead of executing with our feet. We were playing afraid not to lose. We went into the second intermission and talked about calming the nerves and just trusting each other. We also talked about being good teammates and it was now time to step up. I felt, going into the third, once we made one big play things will calm down. Millie’s goal helped us do that.”
Boudiette remained stellar the rest of way through. The junior stonewalled several point-blank attempts during the final two periods (17 shots total) and finished with 22 saves overall.
“This team never stopped believing,” said Boudiette. “We never got down on ourselves, even after they scored. We knew we could get back into this. That’s what we did. As a team, we all believe in one another so to win this is pretty special.”
- Story by John McGuirk