SCC girls ice hockey champion Westie Sharks prevail in spectacular two-overtime thriller
Updated: Feb 27
By Rick Menning
WEST HAVEN, CT -- With the actual game time already having surpassed a regulation National Hockey League contest, Sacred Heart Academy sophomore Julianna Picard raced into the lot slot as teammate Julianna Montano chased the puck deep into the offensive zone.
The Westie Sharks and visiting Hamden Dragons co-op squads had just entered the second minute of the second overtime in a heart-stopping and scoreless Southern Connecticut Conference (SCC) girls' ice hockey championship thriller that far exceeded all expectations.
The frenzied crowd that packed the Edward L. Bennett Rink for this Saturday night showdown was already in eruption mode with loud cheers greeting both teams as they entered the frozen surface for the fifth period, having already endured 60 minutes of amazing back-and-forth competition.
The scoreboard continued to display zeroes on both sides, however, and there was no indication in sight that this amazing encounter between two outstanding SCC rivals would end anytime soon.
That is, until the Westie Sharks -- with players from West Haven High School and Sacred Heart Academy -- made the most of what seemed like endless rushes -- by both squads -- into their opponent's territory.
Despite heavy pressure by Hamden skaters, Montano managed to guide the puck through that traffic and found Picard, who had a wide-open right side and deposited the dramatic goal at the 1:23 mark.
While Montano wasn't able to be the first to embrace Picard after supplying the memorable assist. the junior at Sacred Heart Academy was more than happy to join the dog pile inside the right circle.
Her teammates had already started a wild celebration as a showdown that began at 7:15 p.m. was approaching 10 p.m.
"I saw Julianna (Montano) going behind the net, and all I was thinking about was getting myself in front and hopefully the puck would find my stick," Picard said after the game. "When I saw it coming, I said to myself this is going in and we're getting this title."
The outcome enabled the Westie Sharks to not only secure a title that eluded them last year in a championship-game loss to Guilford but also sweep the season series with a Dragons' squad that gave the hosts all they could handle.
Another classic matchup
Hamden, which lost by only two goals (4-2 and 2-0) in both regular-season meetings, once again played with heart and determination but took that resolve into the stratosphere and it resulted in a monumental battle for the ages.
"We knew this was going to be a challenging game," Picard continued. "Hamden always plays us tough and we knew we were going to have to work hard and work together as a team. It took five periods, but we showed we could get it done."
Despite a combined 78 shots being fired on net during four periods of continual ebbs and flows along with countless emotional highs and lows, the Zamboni cleared the ice for yet another round in this heavyweight bout.
"The first overtime was stressful enough, but when we went into (that second overtime) it was really nerve wracking," Picard said. "We managed to (persevere), though, and reinstate ourselves as the No. 1 team in the SCC."
Goalies world-class great
As with any scoreless deadlock, but especially in such an amazing encounter, the goalies at both ends of the ice deserve tremendous praise.
To achieve a shutout in regulation is impressive enough, but to do it into a fifth period reaches another plateau. Sacred Heart Academy junior Belle Desrosiers was named the SCC Tournament Most Outstanding Player for her effort.
"Belle was incredible. She's had great games before, but this game was by far her best she's ever played," said Picard after watching her team's netminder turn aside 39 shots by the relentless Dragons' skaters. "She was stopping pucks coming at her from every direction."
Meanwhile, Dragons' goalie Marcia Colten stopped 40 of 41 shots in a performance worthy of major distinction at any level of hockey.
For Desrosiers, it was just a matter of staying focused and being prepared for any shot that came her way.
"This (game) is definitely the highlight of my high school career, for sure," said Desrosiers, who had to make a critical save on a Hamden threat just moments before Picard's game-winner. "I just left it all out there. I really wanted to support the girls as much as I could because they had my back the entire game."
Like Picard, Desrosiers was highly complimentary of the Dragons' grit and resolve to also leave it all out on the ice and give 100 percent the entire 61-plus minutes.
"They were incredible! Hamden played an amazing game," she emphasized. "They put up a really good fight. Honestly all of them came and showed up."
She then directed plaudits at her counterpart on the opposite end of the rink.
"Marcia (Colten) played an amazing game," Desrosiers continued. "She stood on her head out there and gave us all we could handle. She was outstanding."
High praise all around
West Haven High School/Sacred Heart Academy head coach Erin Blake couldn't say enough about the Dragons' overall showing throughout the marathon classic.
"Hamden has been a West Haven rival forever. Jess (Dragons' head coach Jessica Morgillo) has really been building something special with that team and we knew it was not going to be easy."
Blake noted that she is so happy to hear about Morgillo's SCC Coach of the Year accolade.
"She's a wonderful coach; there's a reason she received that award. She deserves it."
Blake also acknowledged that the outcome could have gone either way with the performance both teams gave throughout the contest.
"Every girl out on that ice tonight is a winner and you hate that someone has to lose because all the girls are so awesome. The girls all played their hearts out and it was such a hard-fought game."
Icing on the SCC cake
In the end, however, it was the Julianna Montano to Julianna Picard combine that sealed the championship night.
"Julianna Picard has been putting pucks in the net for us all season," Blake said. "She's our player of the year for the SCC; she's been outstanding. As a sophomore, she has over 40 points (goals and assists) this season."
Blake singled out several star players for the co-op Hamden team including senior goalie Marcia Colten from Wilbur Cross High School.
"Marcia (Colten) put up such a good fight in goal and (Trinity) Sweeney and Giada (Broccoli)...we knew they were going to give us all they had.
"It was anybody's game ... we got lucky on that (scoring play) and were able to put it away."
She also was thrilled not only with the turnout but also the high-energy support for both teams that resonated throughout the Edward L. Bennett Rink.
"It was the biggest crowd I've seen at a girls' hockey game in a while," Blake said.
Standouts all around
At the top of Blake's long list of commendations for stellar play was Desrosiers.
"I've never seen a better game in net," Blake said. "I couldn't be more proud of that kid. I ask her before every game if she's ready and she says 'always' every time I ask."
Blake mentioned that the longer the game went on the more the girls wanted to win for their netminder.
"The girls kept saying that they had to rally behind Belle," Blake continued. "The way she kept us in that game the girls said we have to do this for her."
Another stalwart for the Westie Sharks was West Haven High School junior Taylor Alfano, who played major minutes and was tenacious in all zones but especially in the defensive end.
"She probably played 17 minutes straight," Blake said with a smile. "She was playing so well ...when these girls have to dig deep they do it. I didn't want to take Taylor out and she wanted to be out there at the critical times."
Blake also mentioned the critical defensive work put in by Heather Fonda and Rachel Harrison, who used their speed to get back to the puck and thwart potential offensive chances.
Others recognized by Blake included Ashley Welch, Olivia Twarowski, Anne Plunkett, Melissa Tsakonas and Chase Ireland for their overall performances.
"Honestly, I could give you every girl's name on the team," Blake said. "It was a true team effort in every respect."
A lifetime of memories
Hamden head coach Jessica Morgillo on Sunday afternoon reflected back on Saturday's game with amazement over what took place in West Haven.
"Both teams played the best hockey I have seen in my lifetime," Morgillo said. "It was a great atmosphere to be a part of, it was so loud."
Morgillo went on to say how super proud she is of the way her girls played in a game spanning five periods.
"Our girls truly played their hearts out. They kept grinding and never gave up."
She returned the kind words from the Westie Sharks directed at her and her Dragons' team.
"We have been playing some of the best hockey lately and WH/SHA really responded to that," Morgillo said. "They matched our energy. Their goalie played great ... we thought we had it a few times and she really made some great saves."
The same great play between the pipes also applies to Colten.
"Our goalie, Marcia, played the best game I have seen in her three-year career," Morgillo continued. "Her game has improved so much since she came here and is one of the reasons we were in this game."
Morgillo, like Blake, knew as the marathon went on that it would come down to one big play by a big-time playmaker.
"Julianna (Picard) is a great player. She's fast, didn't show any signs of tiredness, and was able to get to the right spot and finish it off. Really impressive all around from both teams."