Comets ready for return to title game

When the puck drops at the Division I championship game on Wednesday at Gutterson Fieldhouse on the campus of the University of Vermont, there will be a familiar sight of a sea of green and gold in the stands.

The colors won’t be represented by UVM students, but will instead be worn by fans representing the BFA-St. Albans girls hockey team.

The Comets playing in the championship game is also another familiar sight.

The fourth-seeded Comets will play in their 14th title game when they face off against No. 3 Rutland on Wednesday and will try to take home their 11th trophy in that span.

After starting the season with a 2-5 record, the Comets have been on a tear, as they have gone 13-2, including two wins over Essex, who has become the team’s chief rival over the years.

“In the beginning of the season, we had quite a few different line combinations and different forwards and players on defense,” said BFA coach Luke Cioffi. “The current configuration began when we played at Essex (2-0 win on Feb. 8). The girls began to figure out their roles and responsibilities.

“The players truly decided they needed to push each other at practice to get better,” he added. “They are the ones that have worked hard on and off the ice to get better. Their willingness to work hard at improving their skills and taking care of the details has been important.”

BFA came away with a huge win over top-seeded Essex during the semifinals on Monday with a 1-0 victory behind a short-handed goal by senior Emma Hill. It was a big win for the Comets after falling to the Hornets in the last three postseasons, including last year’s title game.

Freshman Maddie Hungerford picked up her fifth shutout of the season on Monday, which includes a 42-save shutout over Rutland earlier this year.

“Maddie has learned a lot this season and continues to learn solid work habits and is willing to work at improving every aspect of her game,” said Cioffi. “Her confidence has grown tremendously as she has played in some close games throughout the season. And I truly feel the guidance and encouragement of (senior) Gabbi Metz has helped push her to be better.”

The Comets split the season series with the Red Raiders with a 3-0 loss at home before avenging that loss with a 2-0 victory down in Rutland.

Rutland (16-4-2) took down No. 2 Middlebury 1-0 during the semifinals in Middlebury on Monday.

Cioffi is expecting the championship game to be a defensive battle just like both the semifinals were.

“Rutland is a very strong and physical team,” he said. “They have a very solid goalie and we will have to continue to crash the net looking for rebounds and simply cause havoc in front of her. They have two solid lines that can score and play defense, but I expect a low-scoring affair as indicated by the two semifinals.”

The emergence of Hungerford has been a big momentum shift for the Comets and the defense in front of her has been phenomenal during their winning stretch.

The team has only let up 13 goals in their last 11 games, as it has gone 10-1 in that stretch.

“Our team defensive awareness has grown tremendously this season,” said Cioffi. “Everyone has improved their positioning and coverage to help in our zone. Many teams are not getting multiple shots on net. Our ability to be very stingy defensively is critical to our success.”

The team has a good mix of young players that have stepped up in a big way this season to mesh well with the senior leaders of the team.

Sophomore McKenna Remillard is leading the team in points with 21 off eight goals and 13 assists. Hill is second on the team with 19 points with 11 goals after her game-winner on Monday.

Freshman Meghan Connor and sophomore Peyton Dukas have tallied 16 points with nine goals and seven assists each.

Linsey Larrow has added 15 points from her spot on defense with six goals and nine assists, while senior Kait Laroe has knocked in 13 points with seven goals and six assists.

“This is truly a selfless group,” said Cioffi. “Making sure everyone around the are included in the team, which is critical to this group.”

The two teams will enter Wednesday’s game with BFA entering its 14th title game, while Rutland will be playing in its second with the first coming in 2010 in Division II, which it lost.

BFA will be looking to continue their late-season roll by raising its 11th banner.

“We will need to use our speed to come out on top on Wednesday,” said Cioffi. “We need to continue to be unselfish and be willing to get to the net at both ends of the ice and play at a high tempo with three or four lines.”

Wednesday’s championship game is scheduled for an 8 p.m. puck drop, as the Comets look to pick up their first title since 2013.

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