About three and a half minutes into the third quarter of the semi-final game between the Burr and Burton Academy (17-3-2) girls hockey team and Northfield (16-4-2) it was Meghan Grabher that came up big - scoring the only goal of the game off an assist from Clara Berard and punching the Bulldogs ticket to the Lake Division Finals where they'll face Middlebury on Wednesday at Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington.
Grabher broke free from two defenders, skated slightly behind the goal line to the left of Northfield goaltender Markie Delude and attempted a pass to teammate Aggie Bisselle.
"I was looking for Aggie in front of the net and she was there and I went to pass it and it went off some stick or skate and went right in the net and I could not believe. I was just so excited," said Grabher. "Nothing feels better than that. It's just great."
The large hometown crowd on hand at Riley RInk erupted as the Bulldogs made their way back to center ice for the ensuing face-off.
Over the next several minutes Northfield stepped up their intensity, taking several shots against BBA net minder Kaylie Benson (19 saves) only to have their efforts rebuffed each time.
"The whole time I was just thinking 'Kaylie, this is it. You've got to keep it here. Just do whatever you've got to do,'" said Benson. "I was sitting there and I was like 'all right, I got this. I can do it.' That's pretty much all I was thinking while I was waiting for it and I was just watching the clock as it counted down."
The game had been a defensive battle between the two teams who came in with identical records and scored five goals each over their three meetings this year.
"There's so many plays, but there's one that really sticks out in my mind and that was Clara Berard one on one with (Kristen) Dukette. She beat the girl that was marking her one on one and Clara takes the body, rides her all the way to the corner and she doesn't even get a shot," said BBA coach Ed Lewicki. "If Clara gets beat and early on in the first they go up one nothing it's a different game. That right there kind of set the tone for the way we played."
In addition to the Bulldogs first defensive line of Berard and Ryder Ferrone, Lewicki said the second line of Molly Dingley and Tess Pollard were "outstanding."
The teams have been close in each meeting this year with neither team taking the advantage in the series.
"Three awesome games. We got them 2-1 down here earlier this year. Three, three tie up in the Middlebury Tournament, they got us 1-0 tonight," said Northfield coach Chris Amell. "[It was] unfortunate the way it happened. [It was an] unfortunate goal. We ended up tapping it in on ourselves. We played hard. We did everything we could. We left it all out there."
The Bulldogs had a good chance to get on the board early with about 4:30 left in the first period when there was a scramble in front of the goal, but Delude (13 saves) saved the first shot and rebound to keep the score at zero.
Northfield applied pressure on the Bulldogs early in the second period, taking multiple shots that accounted for five of Benson's nine saves in the period.
About halfway through the second, Northfield was called for a body check to put the Bulldogs on the power play, but they were unable to capitalize.
Roughly four minutes later, BBA got a second chance when Northfield was called for slashing, but again the Bulldogs were unable to take advantage.
"We got the two power plays. The first one not so good at all. [We] didn't set it up. [It was a] weak effort," said Lewicki. "Our second one was outstanding. We got some quality chances we just didn't get it in."
Near the end of the second BBA was called for interference to set up a four on four situation for a brief time before Northfield went on the power play once their penalty had elapsed. Like BBA though, Northfield was unable to take advantage of the opportunity.
With Northfield applying more pressure after Grabher's goal in the third, Lewicki called a timeout with 5:44 remaining - something he said his team needed.
"That was a necessary timeout. If we didn't rest our kids for that minute and a half, i mean they were really putting the pressure on us," said Lewicki. "I think it gave us a chance to refocus and the last two and a half minutes the puck was down their end for a lot of it."
Now that they are in the finals, Lewicki said he couldn't be happier for his players.
"They work hard for this," said Lewicki. "Those kids have worked hard since they were little and they have that refuse to lose mentality in a good game. To see the smiling faces from the first player to the twentieth player, that's why you coach."
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