SIMSBURY, March 26, 2021 – The lessons that helped the Suffield co-op girls hockey team win a Central Connecticut Conference championship were taught in the early weeks of March.
Suffield, which has players from seven schools – Canton, Ellington, E.O. Smith, Granby, Northwestern Regional and Windsor – got off to a 5-1 start in this pandemic-shortened season with a pair of shutout victories. And then, the Wildcats lost five in a row. A win over Mercy/Northwest Catholic left Suffield co-op with 6-6 record going into the CCC Tournament.
“You have to come to play every day,” Suffield co-op coach Mike Downs said. “Hockey is 80 percent mental. You need to show up and be ready to play and we didn’t do that at midseason and it showed on the scoreboard.”
Things changed in the postseason. The Wildcats won three games, beat the Avon co-op team, 1-0 in the semifinals and stunned top-seeded Simsbury, 3-2 in overtime to win the CCC championship at the International Skating Center.
Suffield co-op (9-6) lost three times to the Trojans this season, including scoring two goals in the final 1:30 of regulation to earn a 3-2 win on March 12.
“We were close to them the last time we played them (a 3-2 loss on March 12),” Downs said. “In the post-season, we finished. We played every shift and we were in it to win. We didn’t take a shift off.”
Simsbury took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Nicole Loftus but Suffield co-op responded with a score from Janine Eitel with 2:44 left in the first period. The Wildcats took a 2-1 lead in the second period when Natalie Ewald scored with 8:24 remaining on a breakaway. But Loftus scored her second of the game off an assist from Molly Walsh with 4:53 left in the period to tie the game at 2-2.
Simsbury goalie Tori LaCroix and Suffield co-op keeper Tegan Mabrysmith were sharp in the scoreless third period as the game went into overtime.
In overtime, it was Kylie Downs in front of the net, punching a rebound of a Wildcat shot off the pads of Simsbury goalie Tori Lacroix into the net for the game-winning score with 5:01 left in extra session.
It’s the third year that Canton has been part of the co-op program. Junior defenseman Sophia Blais is now in her third season with the Wildcats. Canton sophomore Lila Whitney played last winter as a defenseman but had to stay off the ice this year due to an injury.
Blais is one of several veteran defenders on the ice for Suffield co-op. She had two goals and three assists during the regular season with another goal and an assist in the three-game CCC Tournament.
She also serves as one of the team’s chief scouts, Downs said. Part of each pre-game preparation is a session called “What do we have tonight?” where Blais would share information on players on the opposing teams that she is familiar with. Blais has been playing youth hockey throughout northern Connecticut for more than a decade.
“She is a big girl. She’s tall and physical. She plays hard in the corners and puts the puck on the net,” Downs said. “It helps the rest of the team to know we have a strong defense and goalie behind them.”
Goalie Teagan Mabrysmith from E.O. Smith has been outstanding throughout the season. She had a season-high 43 saves in a 2-0 win over Avon co-op in late February.
The strength of the defense also allowed Downs and his coaching staff to move freshman Brianna Morden (Suffield) from defense to forward. Morden was primarily a defender in youth hockey but she has adjusted well with 10 goals in the regular season and another goal in a 4-1 first round win over Mercy/NWC in the CCC Tournament.
Natalie Ewald, a sophomore from Ellington, led the team with 12 goals in the regular season and another two goals in the CCC Tournament.
Konelin Wierdsma had two goals and Mabrysmith made 28 saves in the 7-1 victory over Mercy/NWC in the opening round of the CCC Tournament. Ewald and Morden also scored.
In a 1-0 semifinal win over Avon co-op, Mabrysmith made 24 saves to earn her third shutout of the season. Downs had the game-winning goal with 9:27 left in the first period. She took a great pass from behind the net from senior Emily Bava (Ellington) and popped it into the net.
Suffield co-op 3, Simsbury 2
Suffield co-op (9-6) 1 1 0 1 — 3
Simsbury (11-2-1) 1 1 0 0 — 2
Goals: Nicole Loftus (Simsbury) 2, Janine Eitel (Suffield), Natalie Ewald (Suffield), Kylie Downs (Suffield); Saves: Tilly Mabrysmith (Suffield); Tori LaCroix (Simsbury)
2021 Central Connecticut Conference
Monday, March 22
East Catholic co-op 6, Conard/ Hall 1
Suffield co-op 4, Mercy/NWC 1
Wednesday, March 24
Simsbury 2, East Catholic co-op 0
Suffield co-op 1, Avon co-op 0
Friday, March 26
Final – Suffield co-op 3, Simsbury 2, OT
Conard/Hall vs. Mercy/NWC, cancelled
Avon co-op vs. East Catholic co-op
CCC Girls Hockey
Tournament championship games
2021: Suffield co-op 3, Simsbury 2, OT
2020: Simsbury 4, Avon co-op 2