The Suffield co-op girls ice hockey had faced off with defending CCC champion Simsbury three times during the regular season. The result was three Simsbury victories.
That experience, however, didn’t hurt the Wildcats when they faced Simsbury again in the conference final.
Junior Kylie Downs scored the game-winning goal with an assist from junior Konelin Wierdsma 9:59 into overtime as the Wildcats captured the CCC championship with a 3-2 win over top-seeded Simsbury in the final at the International Skating Center in Simsbury on March 26.
Suffield (9-6) found the fourth time was the charm against the Trojans (11-2-1).
Of Suffield’s three losses to Simsbury, two had been by a single goal with the third being a 3-0 shutout. The two one-goal games gave the Wildcats added confidence going into the final.
“Based on the score and play of the first three games we knew we could compete with Simsbury,” Suffield coach Mike Downs said. “We needed to show up from the first shift and play right through the last shift of the third period.”
Each team had a one-goal lead during regulation – the Trojans at 1-0 in the first period and the Wildcats at 2-1 after two stanzas – and each rallied to tie the game, eventually leading to overtime.
As has been the case for much of the season, Suffield’s sophomore goalie Teagan Mabrysmith was stellar in the title tilt, making 38 saves to help lead the defensive effort. Mabrysmith collected 90 saves in three playoff games.
“Our goaltending and defense have kept us on the winning side in close games all season,” Downs said. “Teagan Mabrysmith faced 40 shots, stopping all but two. Konelin Wierdsma was key for us in not only keeping the puck out of the net, but getting it to the net on the OT game-winner,”
Suffield’s victory made it two different CCC champions in as many years. The conference added girls ice hockey to its slate for the 2019-20 season and prior to that, CCC teams had played as part of the SCC north.
Simsbury won the first CCC championship last winter, defeating the Avon co-op 3-0, and had also won the final SCC North crown in 2018-19.
The Wildcats’ squad is a co-op of seven schools, including Suffield, Ellington, EO Smith, Granby, Canton, Windsor and Northwestern. Despite the difficulties of coping with CVID-19 protocols, especially with players coming from several schools, coach Downs said the Wildcats handled it well.
“We huddled at each practice, distanced of course, and we’d talk about making smart decisions, both on and off the ice,” Downs said. “Control the things we could. If smart decisions were being made individually at home, at school, out with friends, and at the rinks, then we could make it through this as a team.”
Suffield rode a bit of a roller coaster on the ice, opening the season with five wins in the first six games before losing five straight to drop below .500. The Wildcats ended the year with a 7-1 win over Northwest Catholic to finish 6-6 and take the No. 3 seed for the tournament.
Suffield then defeated No. 6 Northwest Catholic/Mercy 4-1, and No. 2 Avon 1-0 in the playoffs to earn a bid to the CCC final and set up a fourth clash with Simsbury.
The Trojans scored first for a 1-0 lead on a goal by Nicole Loftus, assisted by Thora Clark, just 43 seconds after the opening drop. The Wildcats equalized with 2:44 to play in the first period, when Janine Eitel found the net.
In the second period, Natalie Ewald put the ’Cats ahead when she “buried a shot at full speed with the defender on her heels,” Downs said.
Loftus netted her second goal, assisted by Molly Walsh, and tied the score again with 4:33 remaining in regulation.
Kylie Downs then ended it in favor in overtime, as the Wildcats took home the crown.