Any lingering questions about whether or not the Duxbury Dragons are the best girls’ hockey team in Massachusetts were resoundingly answered at TD Garden on Sunday night.
After three straight years as champions of Division II, Duxbury capped their first year in Division I by beating the defending D-I champion Arlington Catholic Cougars 2-1 to win a fourth consecutive state championship and become the first girls hockey program to win championships in both state divisions.
Junior Marissa Fichter broke a 1-1 tie with 6 minutes and 49 seconds left in the third period and senior captain Rachel Myette stopped the Cougars last-ditch effort in the final 25 seconds of the game to cement the Dragons’ legacy in Massachusetts girls’ hockey.
“I feel like I’m in a dream right now,” Myette said. “To end my senior year with a bang is just insane.”
The Dragons were the top-ranked team in the state for most of the year, but a scoring drought toward the end of the season and a loss to the Falmouth Clippers in the final week helped the Cougars leapfrog them to the top spot in the rankings and the higher seed in Division I. However senior captain Liz Collins credited the team’s rough end to the regular season as a turning point that allowed them to win the fourth championship.
“I think the loss to Falmouth was probably the best thing for us,” Collins said. “We knew what a loss felt like, it rebuilt the team and made us better coming into the playoffs.”
That focus paid dividends in the final minutes against Arlington Catholic. The Cougars played a strong second period, but the third was virtually all Dragons, which head coach Friend Weiler said was a testament to his team’s work ethic and desire.
“It speaks to the depth and the hard work these girls put in every day at the rink,” Weiler said. “They were mad at me because I was pushing them hard during practice all week, but I think it worked out in the end because we had a little more left in the tank. I’m just so proud of how these girls worked and I can’t say enough about them.”
While Fichter scored the game-winner, the victory was a testament to the defensive prowess of the Dragons. While the Cougars controlled play for long stretches of the first and second periods, the Dragon defensemen handcuffed 26-goal scorer Adrieanna Rossini and the rest of the Cougar offense by forcing them to play the puck along the board without any room to create in the center of the ice.
“Rachel is just so solid back there and our defensive did a great job keeping them to the outside,” Weiler said “Arlington is so explosive and our goal was to eliminate [Rossini] and 26. Because they are so talented, our goal was to take away their time and space, and thankfully we did that.”
The Dragons and Cougars skated to a 2-2 tie earlier in the season, but senior Ally Hammel said the defensive approach by Duxbury did not change much from that game.
“The first time we played them, it was a really tough, hard fought game,” Hammel said. “We knew that they’re a good stick-handling, fast team so we knew we had to play the body all night, which is what we did.”
The two games also played out similarly for the Dragons, who jumped out in front 1-0 and then 2-1 only to have Arlington Catholic come back both times. After Danielle Kelley tied the game for the Cougars with a one-timer off a pass from Jackie Sindoris, Weiler reminded the team off their late collapse in the first meeting between the two teams. Fichter and Julia seemed to have gotten the message as Nolan won a face off to Fichter, who wristed the puck inside the near post 10 seconds after Kelley’s goal.
“That was huge,” Weiler said. “We’ve been working on that play to get Marissa free and that we just huge that they didn’t let down [after giving up a goal].”
While Duxbury took the lead early in the first period of the first meeting between the two teams, both had to wait until the third period to get on the board Sunday night. Myette turned away nine shots over the first two periods and Catherine Krane saved six before junior Jane Dudley broke the scoreless tie 40 seconds into the third.
The Cougars sent the puck deep into the Dragons’ end of the ice to off the faceoff to start the period, but Fichter won the puck near the Duxbury blue line and sent a pass up to Dudley in the neutral zone. Dudley powered through the back check of her defensemen and snapped a shot under Krane’s glove for her third goal of the tournament.
“She’s been absolutely phenomenal,” Weiler said of Dudley She’s been everywhere in all three games and tonight she just kept working hard to pull it off.”
Dudley, Fichter and Nolan will all be back next year, along with the bulk of Duxbury’s defensive core as they look to match the Class of 2014’s mark of four championships in four years. Despite the loss of five four-year varsity players, Collins thinks the Dragons will be back in the Garden next year.
“I think they’re going to do a really good job,” she said. “You have Jane and Marissa who are definitely going to be stepping up and our two backup goalies are going to be ready to go.”
Dudley acknowledged it will be a challenge to repeat without this year’s senior class, but one she and her teammates are used to.
“Every year we lose a bunch of players,” she said. “After my freshmen year, we lost a bunch of girls to private school and last year we lot Hannah, but we’ll be able to overcome it just like we did last year and the year before.”