The Northern Cyclones did not have it quite so easy in the New England Women’s Junior Hockey League, not like the “old days.”
By Joshua Boyd
Those “old days” constitute just two prior seasons before this 2016-17 campaign, both that saw the Cyclones dominate the young league. They had just one loss in all of 2015-16, for instance. The Cyclones started out the season with a pair of ties, and later took 1-0 losses to the New Jersey Rockets and Walpole Express. They showed some of the old dominance, though, in finishing in first place with a 12-2-2 record in the regular season.
In the playoffs, the Cyclones were down 3-2 after the first period of the semifinal game against Walpole.
In the end, however, the Cyclones were once again the league champions. They defeated the East Coast Wizards in the 2017 title game, 5-2, on March 5.
“This year was more of a grind, I think. The league got stronger, and we had a couple losses against good teams,” said head coach Joe Flanagan. “I felt that, going into the tournament last week, we were playing well. Our better players were our top players – Katie MacCuaig had a good weekend for us. This was her third championship.”
“We really pulled through,” added MacCuaig, whose next stop is Holy Cross. “I’m proud of my team, for the three-peat. We went to the net hard and took advantage of our opportunities.”
Gabbie Igo got the win in net, making 32 saves.
“Along with Taylor Schwandt [who won in the semifinal against Walpole], both goalies made big plays,” said Flanagan.
Sam Benoit and MacCuaig’s co-captain Maddie Truax started the scoring run for the Cyclones in the championship game, helping their team to a 2-0 lead after one period.
MacCuaig scored a power play goal 58 seconds into the start of the second period. Just 24 seconds later, Taylor Peracchio made it 4-0 before the game was 18 and a half minutes old.
The Wizards finally struck at 8:20 of the second period, when ’02 Christina Vote scored for a 4-1 lead. There was not much momentum, however, as MacCuaig scored within two minutes to set the score at 5-1 after two periods.
Morgan Griffin scored the only goal of the third period with six minutes, 19 seconds remaining. The Wizards outshot the Cyclones, 14-5, in the third period. Three goals was as close as they would come to the victors, however.
“Both teams had a lot of penalties,” said Wizards head coach Paul Kennedy. There were 15 penalties, totaling 39 minutes in the game. “That hurt us more than them, but our first and third periods were excellent.”
“We had some bounces go our way You need that when you win championships, but our penalty kill was very good all weekend – our special teams were very good, in general,” added Flanagan. “It’s never easy to repeat, let alone three-peat.”
“The Wizards are a really good team, and this is a really good league,” said Truax. “[The Wizards] were a good team to play against for a championship, they were really edgy.”
The closer games the Cyclones had showed them that this was, indeed, a better overall NEWJHL in Year 3.
“I think the league is getting a lot better as a whole, there’s clearly more competition than before,” said MacCuaig.
“If you look at the top four teams, they were just points between each other,” said Kennedy.
The Cyclones won the regular season title with 26 points, and the New Jersey Rockets were second at 21. The Wizards were third at 19 points, and the Walpole Express took fourth at 14 points, going 4-2 since December after just one win in their first three months of play.
“Anyone could have won this tournament,” said Kennedy. “This league, however, is about getting noticed and putting kids into college. We had 10 kids go [to college] last year and eight kids this year. The Cyclones have had a bunch of kids go to college. It’d be nice to win every game, but we’re getting kids to schools, and they’re good schools.”
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