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Varsity girls claim two wins in weekend of discovery - Jan. 28, 2014


Vern Faulkner/Courier
Hannah Gauley of the St. Stephen varsity girls hockey team leaps on a loose puck, en route to scoring her first of four goals Saturday afternoon, as the St. Stephen Spartans hammered the visiting Polyvalente Thomas-Albert 8-0.

Vern Faulkner
St. Stephen
Somewhere early Saturday afternoon in the gloomy confines of Border Area Community Arena, the St. Stephen Spartans varsity girls hockey team made two discoveries.
Discovery No. 1: they’re good.
Discovery No. 2: they have to believe in No. 1 more often.
The Spartans spent the opening five minutes of a clash with visiting Polyvalente Thomas-Albert playing a remarkably tentative, tenuous, and unremarkable game: at one point, with three forwards deep in the PTA zone battling for the puck, both defenders lurked near the red line, cautious, uncertain.
Perhaps the Spartans were a little sore from a game played the night before, or uncertain what to do without absent PTA star Stephanie Desjardins, who didn’t dress, leaving the visiting team deprived of its main might: for whatever reason, the home squad spent too many opening shifts playing tentatively, gathering in a defensive cluster around netminder Tessa Bartlett.
The tenor of the game changed notably on two key first-period events. The first came when Hannah Gauley leaped on a loose puck in the neutral zone, delivered a stunning acceleration, wove past a backpedaling blue liner and easily beat the PTA netminder for the game’s opening goal.
Moments later, the Spartans went a player down – and it proved the turning point of the game, for both Gauley and captain Rachel Hogge were told to lead an aggressive penalty killing shift.
Aggressive wasn’t the right word: try “dominating,” instead, because PTA spent the first minute of its power play running around in its own zone, trying to contain the Gauley –Hogge duo, to the point PTA was lucky not to have surrendered a short-handed marker in the process.
The shift, however, lit a spark in the Spartans, for it seemed as if every player came to the same realization that if four players could dominate PTA for a minute, five ought to be able to dominate PTA for the rest of the game.
For the next 40 minutes, St. Stephen did exactly that.
Gauley notched her second goal five minutes after her first, and then followed half the rest of the team, as the Spartans ran roughshod over PTA in an 8-0 drubbing. Gauley potted four goals and a helper in the win, Raeleen Brown scored twice, and Hogge collected three points, including one goal. Erin Haley rounded out the scoring on the night.
Coach Bob Coates put some of the slow start to the fact his squad had taken to the ice some 12 hours after playing the night before – a 5-0 win over Hartland.
“I think some of it may be shaking off the mental set that we had, we’ve never been able to have great success against this team.”
PTA, midway through the season, held down top spot in the girls AA southwest division.
For those reasons, Saturday’s contest was a breakout of more than one variety: the Spartans realized, said Coates, that they are a potent squad, capable of playing with – and defeating – the top-ranked opponents in the province, if only they have confidence to do so.
And that, said the veteran coach, was the difference between the first five minutes and the last 40 of Saturday’s game.
“They understand, now, that if we play our system, we can prevail, and that we’re as good … or better … than any team we will face.
“That was a conscious decision,” said Coates. “That first penalty kill, I told my two forwards I wanted it to be an aggressive penalty kill, I wanted them to hunt the puck down.
“It changed the whole game, from that point forward. It moved us towards a more aggressive nature.”
PTA, to its credit, tried to keep pace with St. Stephen, and did gain some counter play courtesy of a little over-eagerness in the Spartans attack. But Coates guided his troops to play a little more cohesively and defensively in response, and in all reality, the game was out of hand by the midway point. Through the third period, the Spartans dominance was obvious, and St. Stephen rounded out the game with a three-goal period.
Coates said the last 40 minutes of Saturday’s game demonstrates how he wants his charges to play, every shift from now on.
Gauley, a Grade 10 centre, admitted the team felt fatigue from Friday night’s game, the second in 12 hours and second in a row after a 10-day layoff.
“I think we needed to get into it,” she said.
Gauley agreed the key moment lay in the early first-period penalty kill.
“We’re trying to get better at spreading out and making passes. We seem to do better – I don’t know if we feel more urgency if we’ve got a four-on-five,”
“It seems to be like an adrenaline spike,” she said.
The lingering concern, said Gauley, is the slow start. The lesson for her compatriots is to start the next games with more confidence.
“We have to stop worrying about getting the puck,” she said. “We got better looking for passing opportunities … we did better, because we weren’t so rushed and scared.”
A word quickly emerges in the post-game discussions: confidence. On Saturday afternoon, the Spartans gained some of that elusive quality, Gauley stated.
“It’s pretty good. It makes us feel like, next time we play these guys, we’ll do OK.”
With the win, the Spartans now hold down second place in the division.
The contest was the 10th shutout of the season, and the third in the row for the team.
The Spartans next suit up for a home game Feb. 6, when the team will host potent Carleton North.