WEST HAVEN >> West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy senior Gabi Prisco has been around for the days her hockey team was defeated by double digit goals. Plenty has changed in the three short years since Prisco’s freshman year.
Waiting for the time her team would be a force, Prisco and her teammates are now realizing the fruits of all their hard work over the past couple of years.
With one of its biggest regular season contests in quite some time, sixth-ranked West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy dominated play in a 3-0 victory over second-ranked East Catholic/Glastonbury/South Windsor January 30 at the Edward L. Bennett Rink in West Haven.
“This is a huge win for us,” Prisco said. “We played strong the entire game. We beat a team that won a state championship a few years ago. Everyone was back checking. Everyone was covering their spot. It is a good feeling. We have gone from losing games 12-0 as a freshman to beating the number two team in the state. This is something memorable for this team.”
The Westies Sharks (10-2-1) held East Catholic to seven shots combined in the first two periods, including just two in the first period alone. The opening period saw Division II West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy dominate play, but East Catholic goaltender Morgan Peters kept the game scoreless with eight saves in the opening period.
The Westie Sharks put 10 more shots on goal in the second period and finally converted 5 minutes, 31 seconds in when freshman Taylor Nowak slid a puck toward the net. Grace Plunkett, who picked up the assist, provided the screen and West Haven had a 1-0 lead.
“We came ready to play,” West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy coaches Erin Blake and Jocey Morrell said. “We told the girls the importance of this game. One of our goals is to play in the state tournament. If we want to get there, we had to win this game. The girls were ready to go.”
West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy sophomore Veronica Lynn had two opportunities to increase the lead, once from the point and the other from the left faceoff circle, but Peters was up to the challenge on both shots.
Trailing by one goal, Division I East Catholic (6-2-5) turned up the pressure with 14 shots on freshman goaltender Tatum Courtmanche. With a power play just 1:02 into the third period, the balance of the game turned in one sequence.
With a partially open net in front of her, East Catholic’s Erica Ferri saw her shot stopped by an all-out effort from Prisco. As the puck was cleared the other way, West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy sophomore Francesca Criscuolo broke in alone on Peters and tucked a shorthanded shot just inside the right post for a 2-0 lead 2:35 into the period.
“We made some big plays out there,” Blake said. “Tatum (Courtmanche) was phenomenal in the third period. She is able to stay focused. Gabi (Prisco) and Veronica (Lynn) were strong on defense. It was a great team effort.”
East Catholic continued to put on the pressure in the third period, outshooting the Westie Sharks 14-4, but Courtmanche was not to be denied in her shutout bid.
East Catholic’s Madeleine Gervais came the closest to scoring, ringing a shot off the post 4:30 into the third. Courtmanche then denied Bridget O’Connor with a pad save and Victoria Amaral with another pad saves two minutes later.
“We played hard in the third period,” East Catholic coach Frank Usseglio said. “We have to learn from it and move on. We played with more urgency in the third period. I thought we were too passive early. We have a lot of young players still learning how to do this.”
The Westie Sharks capped the scoring with 4:03 remaining as freshman Megan Froehlich scored off assists from Nowak and Plunkett for a 3-0 advantage.
“Coming to play teams like this in years past, we were the team to lose to them by a lot,” Morrell said. “Now, we have been able to combine with another team (Sacred Heart Academy) and we have turned things around. We beat a Division I team tonight. That may not have happened a few years ago.”
Courtmanche finished with 21 saves for West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy, while Peters made 19 saves in the loss for East Catholic.