HIGHGATE – The first time the Milton and Missisquoi boys hockey teams met up this season, the two teams battled to a scoreless tie.
Saturday was a much different story for one of the teams.
Milton erupted for five first-period goals, including three goals during a 5-minute powerplay, on its way to a 7-0 win over the Thunderbirds at Highgate Arena.
It was another big shutout win for the Yellowjackets after coming away with a 5-0 victory over St. Johnsbury in their last game.
“I think unselfishness was the different between the outcome today and the outcome the first time we played (Missisquoi),” said Milton coach Trevor Wagar. “We haven’t changed much from a coaching standpoint, but the players are changing their play. We have scored 12 goals in the last two games and given up none, so that kind of speaks for itself how the guys are playing.
“But tonight was the type of game we wanted heading into the playoffs,” he added. “Not necessarily from where the scoreboard ended up going, but playing against a competitive team which Missisquoi definitely is.”
Milton took advantage for three goals in a three minute stretch when Missisquoi was called for a five-minute hit from behind major. The Yellowjackets ended with five total goals in the first period.
They did a good job seizing the opportunity when it went up on the man advantage, as it scored four goals on the power play.
“It definitely helped us get momentum and control the tempo of the game going on the powerplay for five minutes early in the game,” said Wagar. “We were lucky to get that opportunity and did a good job seizing the opportunity.”
It was a tough way to end the regular season for the Thunderbirds, who couldn’t take advantage of a 5-on-3 powerplay early in the second to try and turn the momentum around.
“This wasn’t the way we drew up the gameplan, but this game doesn’t define the team we are,” said Missisquoi coach Chris Hatin. “I am extremely proud of this group of seniors and this team.”
Milton had all the pressure in the first period with 16 shots on net compared to Missisquoi’s four.
The Yellowjackets got the scoring started early in the first period. After Devon Jackson took a shot that was saved, Patrick Shannon picked up the rebound, skated around the net and chipped up a shot that slipped just inside the post and over the blocker of Thunderbird goalie Cam Gagne (11 saves) for the 1-0 lead.
Missisquoi was then called for the hit-from-behind major with just under nine minutes left in the first frame. The Yellowjackets took advantage with goals from Jackson, Elliot Hanna and Andrew McQuinn while on the powerplay. Brendan Green, Noah Perry and Shannon picked up assists on the powerplay goals.
Milton scored in the final minute of the period with Josh McQuinn assisting on Green’s tally.
Missisquoi had a great opportunity to start turning the tide early in the second period when it went up on a 5 on 3 for almost a full two minutes.
The Milton penalty kill and goalie Jack Ehler (19 saves) stood strong to continue to build on the teams momentum.
The Yellowjackets were a perfect 5 of 5 killing off penalties, including a five minute major of their own in the third period.
“We practice our powerplay and penalty kill twice a week for a good half hour each time,” said Wagar. “Our guys are familiar how to play on special teams and we practice all the situations, so when they come up in the game, the guys know how to handle them.”
Jackson added another goal in the third period with an assist from Cole Gaudette and Nick Desouza chipped in a shorthanded goal to round out the scoring for the night.
Logan LaBelle was in goal for the Thunderbirds in the second and third period and finished with 14 saves.
“I thought Logan did a good job in the second and third,” said Hatin. “He played great.”
It was a tough stretch of games to end the season for the Thunderbirds, as they dropped four of their last five games to finish with a 9-10-1 record.
They will likely grab the No. 7 seed in the upcoming Division II playoffs and line up to host No. 10 Brattleboro in the playdowns next week.
“One positive is tonight wasn’t a playoff game,” said Hatin. “Playoffs start next week, so we won’t let tonight define us and will get back to work on Monday.”
Milton has been trending upward toward the end of the regular season, as it finished 4-1-2 in its last seven games, including a win over North Country and a tie with Burr & Burton.
The Yellowjackets finished with a 9-7-3 record and will likely grab the No. 5 spot and look to line up with Northfield during next week’s playdown round.
Milton has been playing strong against all of its opponents all season with quality wins over North Country and Burr & Burton. They also have battled well against the top two seeds in Division II in Hartford and Harwood coming away with tough one-goal losses in their last two contests against those two teams.
Wagar hopes to continue to build on that tough play moving forward into the postseason.
“The great thing about this league is any night you can come away with a win or any night you can come away with a loss no matter who you are facing,” said Wagar. “Our goal has been to be playing our best hockey at the end of the season and not get too upset over losses and just continue to get better, and we have done that. We have a lot of mental toughness on this team. Our whole goal is to make a run here in the postseason and go all the way and the way we look at it is we have four games left.”