The state’s preeminent high school girls hockey program had its earliest playoff exit last winter – bounced in the Division I quarterfinals.
The response? Goals galore in a perfect regular season.
But when it came time to clinch Monday’s Division I title game, BFA-St. Albans showed what no statistic can measure: Grit and fearlessness.
Blocking shot after shot during a game-ending Spaulding power play, the No. 1 Comets survived to pull out a 3-2 victory over the second-seeded Crimson Tide in a championship showdown that delivered 45 intense minutes at Gutterson Fieldhouse.
The thrilling win was the Comets ‘first title since 2018 and 12th overall for Vermont Principals’ Association tournaments. The coronation also capped the first undefeated record (22-0) in BFA’s decorated history.
“We knew we needed to play the best last two minutes of hockey we’ve ever played in our lives,” BFA senior captain Sophie Zemianek said. “Leave it all on the ice and do what we know how to do best and that’s play hockey.”
Zemianek was at the center of it, too. The all-state defenseman gave up her body – she dove head-first in front of net – to block consecutive shots early on during a Spaulding power play that went from a 5-on-4 to a 5-on-3 to a 6 -on-3 in the game’s final two-plus minutes.
In total, Zemian blocked four of her team’s 12 shots. Goalie Makenna Montgomery made 19 saves.
“That exemplifies how she’s played the game for four years,” BFA coach Luke Cioffi said of Zemianek. “Not only on the ice, it’s what she does off the ice for her team, her friends – it’s an awesome feeling for everybody to know that she’s just going to go out there and do what it takes.”
The Comets’ high-scoring, balanced offense – it averaged nearly six goals a game and had at least seven players with 10 or more points – stayed true to itself on Monday night. Seven players registered points, with Caroline Bliss, Annika Fersing and Rae Alexander tallying the goals.
“I’m so proud of every single girl on this team. Everybody contributed in one way or another. We couldn’t have done without every single person,” Zemianek said. “We don’t give up. That’s the biggest thing that’s made us successful this year.
Mattie Cetin tied a Division I title-game record with 31 saves, and Portia Berard and Ruby Harrington scored for the Crimson Tide (19-3), which fell just short against BFA for the third time this season.
“BFA is very strong, but we were also just a bounce away from tying it. It just wasn’t our night tonight,” Spaulding coach Dave Lawrence said. “The girls played their hearts out. They laid it all on the line and gave it everything they can. I’m proud of them – they went for it.”
The game started in Spaulding’s favor. Chelsea Bell fought to swipe possession away from two BFA players and shoveled a back-handed shot on net that Montgomery couldn’t corral, letting Berard poke through for a 1-0 margin at 7:06 of the first period.
The lead, though, was short-lived. A minute later, Jodie Gratton charged through the left faceoff area, forcing the puck to Caroline Bliss, who knocked it in for her 19th goal of the season.
“There was no panic,” Cioffi said of the early deficit. “This team was resilient in that way – they just kept on playing. It was a fun group to coach because you knew whatever group you put out there, they were going to give their best. Everybody chipped in.”
To start the second period, BFA capitalized on its second power play chance. Cetin blocked Rachel Needleman’s shot from the point, but the puck fell right on Alexander’s stick for a quick-strike rebound finish 1:16 into the middle frame.
The BFA lead grew to 3-1 when Reese Clayton’s deflected shot was batted out of the air by Fersing.
Spaulding answered 25 seconds later when a strong forecheck shift forced a BFA turnover, the puck sliding to Harrington for the low shot inside the post on Montgomery’s stick side.
BFA killed three Spaulding power plays in the third period, including back-to-back penalties in the final 2:43. BFA was called for tripping and body checking, setting up a 5-on-3 for nearly a minute. Spaulding added another skater, too, when coach Lawrence pulled Cetin.
“Desperate on both sides. One team is trying to close it out and the other is trying to stay alive,” Lawrence said. “We felt like we had a good chance to win this game and we just didn’t finish in the end. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, everybody worked hard and gave it their all.”
On the penalty kill, Zemianek went full extension when she dove onto the ice, absorbing shot after shot as helped Montgomery and teammates keep the puck out of their net and secure a championship one full year in the making.
“It doesn’t even hurt to be honest, my adrenaline is through the roof right now,” Zemianek said. “I’m sure I’ll feel it tonight but it was all worth it in the end.
“Every single girl believes themselves and believes in the team. That’s why we live by the motto, ‘Believe.'”
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Contact Alex Abrami at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ aabrami5.