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Defense stands tall as Connecticut holds off Montreal, 4-1

Connecticut Whale goalie Abbie Ives, left, was tested in the final minutes of Friday night’s PHF game in Simsbury. The Whale won, 4-1 and Ives won her sixth game of the season.

SIMSBURY, Jan. 27, 2023 – Goalie Abbie Ives saw the difference in the Connecticut Whale defense in Friday night’s game against the Montreal Force at the International Skating Center of Connecticut.

The last time these two Premier Hockey Federation teams met was in Pittsburgh earlier this month when the Force tied the game four times before scoring a goal with 19 seconds remaining in the game to earn the win.

Ives made two big point-blank saves with two minutes left in regulation to keep the Whale ahead and Connecticut added a pair of empty net goals to beat Montreal, 4-1.

The Whale (8-6-1) have now won two straight games for just the third time this season. Connecticut gave up just 10 shots over the first two periods. Montreal (6-7-1) got 12 shots on Ives in the third period but she was up for the challenge for her sixth win of the season.

“We’re caring about (playing defense) in all three zones (of the ice),” Ives said. “Just a little extra effort makes a big difference. We’re caring more about (our) play in the neutral zone and the (defensive) zone, being a little less risky and going the extra mile.

“For me, I didn’t see as many odd-man rushes, which makes it a lot easier,” she said. ”Less high danger shots so that was good.”

The game was the only regular season game on the schedule this weekend. The PHF is holding their round-robin All-Star tournament on Sunday in Toronto. Five Whale players were named to play in the tournament with leading scorer Kennedy Marchment playing with Team Canada, Ives and Taylor Girard playing with Team USA and Katerina Mrazova and rookie Lenka Serdar on Team World.

Taylor Girard (17) chases down the puck during Friday night’s PHF game in Simsbury. Connecticut beat Montreal, 4-1.

Serdar, the rookie from Cornell, scored her first PHF goal in the second period – a power play goal in the slot thanks to a nice pass from behind the net from teammate Katerina Mrazova. Melissa Samoskevich also scored on a power play goal in the second period as Connecticut grabbed a 2-0 lead.

It’s a good sign for the Whale, who struggled on the power play in the first eight games of the season with just two power play goals. The Whale were 2-for-3 on the power play Friday night and have scored seven power play goals in the last seven games.

“We’re starting to get things clicking on the power play, which is huge for us,” Serdar said. “Special teams are so important in this league where it is a battle every night. So, that was really big for us (two power play goals).”

Montreal is a quick team and didn’t give the Whale much of a chance to get much going in the opening period. The Force took some penalties in the second period to allow the Whale an opportunity to take the lead and Connecticut cashed in.

Montreal’s Kaity Howarth was called for hooking with midway through the second period to give the Whale their first power play of the game. Just 32 seconds later, Brigitte Laganiere received a major five-minute penalty for boarding.

Samoskevich scored 13 seconds later to give the Whale a 1-0 lead with 12 minutes left in the second period. The Force was able to kill off the remainder of the penalty without giving up a goal.

Montreal was called for a second major, five-minute penalty – again for boarding – with 6:25 left in the second period. The Whale capitalized when Serdar scored with 2:44 remaining for a 2-0 lead.

The Force cut the lead to one on a goal from Alexandra Labelle with 10:15 remaining but Montreal never was able to get the equalizer past Ives, who made 12 of her 21 saves in the third period.

Caitrin Loneran and Mrazoa each had empty net goals in the final 47 seconds of the game as the Force pulled their goalie for an extra attacker in an attempt to tie the game.

Loneran thought she had a backhand goal with 5:10 remaining but after a video review, the referee decided it had not gone into the net.

After this weekend’s All-Star break, the Whale will return to action on Friday, Feb. 3 with a trip to play the Metropolitan Riveters.

The next home game in Simsbury for Connecticut will be a pair of games against the Toronto Six on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. and a second game on Sunday, Feb. 19, at noon.

Connecticut 4, Montreal 1
At Simsbury
Montreal (6-7-1)             0  0  1  — 1
Connecticut (8-6-1)         0  2  2  — 2
First period
No goals. Penalties – Kristina Shanahan (M), body checking, 16:14
Second period
Connecticut 1, Melissa Samoskevich (Kennedy Marchment, Alyssa Wohlfeiler), 8:00 (pp); Connecticut 2, Lenka Serdar (Katerina Mrazova), 17:16 (pp); Penalties – Kaity Howarth (M), hooking, 7:09; Brigitte Laganiere (M), boarding (major), 7:47; Taylor Girard (CT), body checking, 8:40; Deziray DeSousa (M), boarding (major), 13:35; Katerina Mrazova (CT) cross-checking, 19:46
Third period
Montreal 1, Alexandra Labelle (Autumn MacDougall), 9:45; Connecticut 3, Caitrin Lonergan (Taylor Girard), 19:12 (en); Connecticut 4, Katerina Mrazova (Justine Reyes), 19:59 (en); Penalties – none
Shots on goal – Connecticut 33 (12-12-9), Montreal 22 (6-4-12)
Power play opportunities – Connecticut 2-3, Montreal 0-2
Goalies – Connecticut, Abbie Ives, 21 saves (W, 6-4); Montreal – Marie Soleil Deschenes, 29 saves (L, 3-4-1)

Standings as of January 27, 2023

Boston 12-2-1 34 9 3 0 58-30
Toronto 10-2-2 30 8 1 1 51-39
Minnesota 8-4-2 26 8 0 0 42-35
Connecticut 8-6-1 25 8 0 0 53-44
Montreal 6-7-1 16 3 1 2 36-44
Metropolitan 5-11-0 14 4 0 1 40-57
Buffalo 2-10-2 8 2 0 0 31-62
Friday’s game
Connecticut 4, Montreal 1
Sunday’s game
All-Star Game in Toronto
Teams earn 3 points for a win in regulation and 2 points for a win in OT or shootout. Teams earn 1 point for a loss in OT or the shootout.


Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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