Hornets sting SLP in title game

Saranac Lake Placid senior captain Lea Hill winds up to fire a shot toward the net while Taylor Heywood closes in on defense for Plattsburgh during the second period of Sunday’s Section VII final. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

PLATTSBURGH — A year ago, the newly formed Saranac Lake Placid girls high school hockey team advanced all the way to the Section VII championship game, where it was dealt a heartbreaking 1-0 loss by Beekmantown in a contest where either squad could have been the winner.

This winter, SLP marched right back to that game on Sunday to face Plattsburgh, and this time around, the result was similar with one exception. The Hornets were clearly the better team.

With a trip to the state final four in Buffalo on the line, Plattsburgh scored a goal in each period and played shutout hockey at the other end of the rink to claim a 3-0 victory over SLP.

Avery Holland scored twice, Taylor Hackett added a goal and an assist and Ava Julian stopped all 24 shots she faced to earn the shutout victory in goal for Plattsburgh, which will next face Skaneateles in a state championship semifinal game Friday at the Harbor Center.

As the regular season champions, SLP entered the final as the top seed but struggled to match the intensity of the Hornets in what was the rubber match between the teams this winter. They both won once on home ice, but SLP faced a much-improved opponent at SUNY Plattsburgh’s Stafford Arena.

SLP’s Lydia Bullock draws three defenders while bearing down on the Hornets’ net during the second period Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“They were the better team today,” SLP head coach Bill Peer said. “I give the credit to them. They played really well. I think our kids tried hard. They gave a good effort. I just thought that Plattsburgh really outplayed us today.”

Two of Plattsburgh’s goals came with traffic in front of the SLP net guarded by seventh-grade goaltender Olivia Ferebee, and the Hornets other tally came off a play that began in their own end of the rink following a faceoff.

Holland, a freshman, put Plattsburgh on the board with the game’s first goal at the 10:01 mark of the first period on a shot from in close off an assist from Abby Boule. Holland’s first goal proved to be the game-winner, but the Hornets were able to bury two more pucks to really turn up the pressure.

Plattsburgh’s next goal came with just 1:02 gone in the second stanza when Hackett quickly gained control of a puck sitting in her team’s defensive zone’s left faceoff circle, and sent a pass to Holland, who then took off along the boards, skated in alone on Ferebee and top-shelved a wrist shot into the right side of the net.

Hackett, a senior who actually played for the Lake Placid girls high school team two years ago prior to the SLP merger, then sealed the victory, scoring midway through the third period to make the contest a 3-0 final. On the play, Hackett picked up a loose puck in front of the SLP net after the defense failed to clear it from danger and slid a backhander through the pads of Ferebee.

Rylee Preston of SLP controls the puck during Sunday’s game against Plattsburgh. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SLP certainly had opportunities to score, but came up empty every time. Three of those chances turned out to be shots that rattled harmlessly off the crossbar, and another one was a breakaway by league MVP Lydia Bullock in the second period that was gobbled up by Julian. SLP finished with a 24-22 edge in shots on goal.

“I thought the bounces didn’t go our way at times when we needed to get back into the game,” Peer said. “It just didn’t happen for us today.”

Plattsburgh head coach Jamie Reidy said about a month ago, his young team shifted gears when it came to training, and said it’s paying off as the Hornets have now won five of their last six games.

“The last four or five games, we’ve stepped it up a notch,” Reidy said. “Four weeks ago, we started a brand new off-ice training program for the kids. We felt our problem was we were getting out skated because we were young and not strong enough, so our focus wasn’t so much on the ice, but it was off the ice to get the girls stronger. I really think it paid dividends for us.”

With a Section VII title now in hand, Plattsburgh carries a 12-7-2 record into the state semifinal round where it looks to avenge an 8-0 loss to Skaneateles, which took place back on Nov. 24.

“They’re the top-ranked team in the state,” Reidy said. “We look forward to the challenge. We’re a whole different team than we were earlier in the year. You just go down there, throw your hat in the ring and see what happens.”

After losing just one league game on the way to winning Section VII’s regular-season title, SLP will now have to wait another year for another opportunity to chase down a coveted playoff crown. However, if that happens, it will be without the team’s four seniors — captains Lea Hill and Makeda Thompson, and Jillian Duffy and Meghan Byrne — who played in their final high school game on Sunday.

“We lose four girls and hopefully we get kids coming back,” Peer said. “In the locker room after the game we said ‘We want to get back to this game and win it.’ We’ve been here two years in a row. We want to get one.”

SLP finished its season with an 11-9 overall record.