It’s never easy taking on one of the (if not the) top team in the state on only one days notice.
Without one of your top forwards? Even tougher.
The Missisquoi boys hockey team was scheduled to play Lyndon on Saturday, but after Lyndon had to cancel the game, the Thunderbirds picked up a game against undefeated Div. I powerhouse Essex.
Even though the Thunderbirds were missing their 100-point player in senior Hunter Mason, they stood toe-to-toe with Essex all game long coming up just short in a 3-1 decision.
“We hold ourselves to a very high standard, but Essex is a very deep team,” said Missisquoi coach Chris Hatin. “They were able to roll four lines at us all game long, and we just aren’t that deep. We are a deep Div. II team and I think we are a state contender this year, and I think we are one of the top teams in the state and we showed we can play with those top teams tonight. This was just one of those situations where we just weren’t as deep as them and rolling without Hunter didn’t help our depth tonight.”
The teams entered the third period tied 1-1 before Essex’s Tobey Cram made it 2-1 early in the final period. The Hornets won an offensive zone faceoff and Justin Prim took a shot that Missisquoi goalie PJ Bouchard got a piece of leaving the puck in the crease where Cram poked it into the net for the one-goal lead.
Almost halfway through the third period, the Thunderbirds just missed a chance to tie the game up when Steven King took a shot from the blue line that found its way through traffic and past Essex goalie Ian Boutin, but it rang off the post and stayed out keeping it a 2-1 game.
Cram made it a 3-1 game with just over a minute left off a nice pass from Prim from behind the net.
Bouchard did all he could throughout the game with the first two goals going in on plays made with traffic all around him in the trenches and the third on a nice play between Prim and Cram. He finished the game with 28 saves.
“Tonight was a learning experience for PJ understanding smothering pucks and getting us the whistles, which he did,” said Hatin. “He’s very good and when he sees the puck, he’s going to hang on to it. Essex got the dirty, grinding goals down low and those are going to happen.”
Essex got on the board first when Owen Young picked up a loose puck in the slot and snapped a shot past Bouchard for the early 1-0 lead. Both teams had chances back and forth throughout the rest of the first, but neither team could find the back of the net.
The second period looked like it was going to be scoreless as both goalies stood tall keeping everything out until the final minute. Jackson Porter sent a pass up to a streaking Ethan Messier, who broke behind the defense no a breakaway and took a shot that beat Boutin (21 saves) on the glove-side and found its way into the top corner of the net to make it a 1-1 game.
Despite the loss, it was an impressive showing for Missisquoi, as it proved it could battle with any team in the state in either division.
“Getting the team to believe in themselves and knowing they could compete with Essex is one of the things that the coaching staff was trying to get across to them before the game,” said Hatin. “It’s tough this year having teams have to cancel due to the pandemic, but I’m glad we were able to pick up this game against Essex. The postgame speech after the game was beating a lesser opponent 7-1 wasn’t as good as the result was tonight against a team like Essex. We can learn a lot more from losing at times.”
It was the Thunderbirds first loss of the season, as they fell to 4-1 on the year and will be back in action on Wednesday when they host Mt. Mansfield.