Experience key for Thunderbirds heading into 2021 season

In high school hockey, regular season records can always be misleading.

During the 2018-19 season, the Missisquoi girls hockey team entered the postseason with a 6-14 record and went in as the No. 7 seed of the Div. II playoffs and ended up winning the championship.

Last season, the Thunderbirds finished the regular season with a 9-10-1 record after playing through a very tough schedule filled with top Div. I teams. The season ended against a very good and eventual champion Spaulding in the quarterfinals.

The Thunderbirds can never be counted out to make some noise during the postseason and the 2021 version of the team will be no different.

“We want to build off of the competitive season we had last year,” said coach Brian Fortin, who is entering his second year as head coach after being an assistant for two. “Being Tier 2 last year, we got to experience every type of game from winning our first game against Brattleboro, 9-1, to losing to BFA 9-0. Some of those games taught us to be humble in victory because at any given moment we could be on the other side of those scores.

“I believe with our entire core returning this season, we will be much more competitive with those top Tier 1 teams than in years previous. I think this is the most skilled group we have had in the four years I have coached this team.”

The team is filled with players who were part of their championship in 2019, so have that quality experience. Senior netminder Madison Conley returns to anchor the team, as she has the past few seasons.

“Madi has been the backbone of this team throughout her high school career,” said Fortin. “In my opinion, she is one of the top performers in her position year in and year out.”

Senior Brianna “Breezy” Parent will return to wreak havoc on opposing defenses with her speed coming off a 17-goal year last year.

 “Breezy has been the heart of this team since she stepped on the ice as a freshman and her work ethic and want to win is unmatched,” said Fortin. “She has the potential to dominate on both ends of the ice this year. If this were a full season, she would be eyeing her 100th point by the end of the season.”

Lora Fresn and Bethy Laroche have both also looked good up front during the preseason according to Fortin, who is expecting big seasons on the scoresheet from both of them.

Senior Abby Bessette will continue to lead the charge from the blue line for the Thunderbirds, who earned very high praises from her coach.

“I think she is the best shut down defenseman in the state,” he said. “She doesn’t do it on the stat sheet, but it’s what she does away from the puck and in our own end that goes criminally unnoticed. She will battle harder for pucks against someone twice her size and plays so fierce in front of our net.”

After scoring 19 goals as an eighth-grader, Bri Jarvis is another player to watch entering her freshman year campaign.

“Be prepared to see her name in the stat column often,” said Fortin.

Junior defenseman Haley Stefaniak will join Bessette to head the defensive core as an offensive threat from the blue line.

Fortin is also excited for a couple of newcomers in sophomore Karissa LeClair, who transferred from Milton this year and eighth-grader Rory Schreindorfer. Schreindorfer is the cousin of Parent and Fortin plans to use that connection to the team’s advantage.

“Rory will be slotted in to play on a line with Breezy and we saw instant chemistry,” said Fortin. “They both play very similar games and could connect for a lot of offense this season.”

Brooke Rainville and Lindsey Gagne will round out the defensive pairings for the Thunderbirds after playing solidly last year. Rainville will be a key returning player after breaking her arm during a game last year.

Numbers continue to be strong for the team, who will look to roll with three offensive lines throughout the year to provide depth and keep fresh legs, which could be an advantage against teams that aren’t as deep on the bench.

“Last year was a building year with only 13 of our 22 players having played more than one year of hockey,” said Fortin. “We have 21 girls on the roster this year with everyone healthy and are looking to skate three solid offensive lines, two sets on defense and two goalies and rotate in our other six girls.”

After the extended preseason, the team is excited to get on the ice against competition wearing different jerseys.

The Thunderbirds will open their season on the road Saturday against Div. I Middlebury.

“It was hard for everyone to stay motived and competitive after the first week of practice with no green light for games yet,” said Fortin. “When we found out games were coming, that all changed and they are working harder than ever right now preparing for that first puck to drop.”

With such an experienced team, the Thunderbirds are ready to open some eyes around the state.

“Looking at our roster compared to last season, you would think this is a very similar team, but we aren’t,” said Fortin. “We are older, more experienced and we have depth. This team is looking to up the offensive output and looking to surprise teams that would normally count us out.”

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