Updated: Dec 19, 2022
By Rick Menning
NORTHFORD, CT -- Loud cheering broke out as soon as West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy head coach Erin Blake walked into the dressing room after Saturday's Southern Connecticut Conference (SCC) girls' high school ice hockey game against Daniel Hand Co-op.
In the spirit of the holidays, the Westie Sharks players made sure her milestone night inside the Northford Ice Pavilion's 'Blue' rink would come with added glitter befitting someone who had just achieved the 100th win of her career at the helm of the squad.
It was a gift that kept on giving and giving.
The road warriors scored in bunches during a 10-4 victory over the host Tigers to improve to 4-1 in this still young season. The loss was the first for Daniel Hand Co-op since starting its season with a 2-0 record in a pair of one-goal thrillers.
Westie Sharks team captain Anne Plunkett, center Julianna Picard and freshman forward Olivia Twarowski all scored twice as part of a balanced offensive surge that featured at least seven different players earning points (goals or assists) on the scoresheet.
Every line was clicking, and the Westie Sharks were finding high-percentage shots from both circles and through the slot while demonstrating their speed and ability to control the neutral zone.
"I am so proud of them. This is their work and their doing," said Blake, who watched her team score three goals in just over two minutes during the latter stages of the first period to erase a 1-0 deficit.
Although only a few weeks into the 2022-23 campaign, the squad comprised of players from both West Haven High School and Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden is already demonstrating a cohesion and camaraderie that has paid big dividends.
"(The girls) are really building something special," Blake noted. "They are comfortable with each other and are really good at supporting each other. We've been pretty solid in all areas (of our game)."
The Westie Sharks collectively did not take their foot off the gas the entire contest as they followed up their three-goal first period with four more in the second period and another three in the third period.
For Anne Plunkett, a senior forward who attends Sacred Heart Academy, it's all about the chemistry coming together to produce a winning formula on the ice.
"Our lines can go interchangeably. We mix up the lines all the time," Plunkett said. "We are a very together team."
Since the squad includes students from two different schools in two different communities, that unity and ability to mesh as one unit makes the current success all the more impressive.
"It's an amazing dynamic. The schools have always worked so well together," Plunkett continued. "It's really special."
Julianna Picard, who is in her sophomore year at Sacred Heart Academy, took a perfect pass from Plunkett and converted a one-timer from the left circle for the third goal in the first period.
She is finding that this second time around with the team has given her more confidence and a feeling that she can provide a veteran presence.
"I didn't know the team as well in my freshman year, but now we're connecting and getting these big wins and beating our rivals," said Picard, whose squad has already defeated Hamden Co-op and 2021-22 SCC champion Guilford Co-op.
Guilford edged West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy 4-3 in the SCC championship game last season, so the Westie Sharks returned the favor last Thursday and this time came out on the winning side of a 4-3 result.
"Most of us play travel (hockey) together with the same organization and we're really having fun on the ice and enjoying being with each other."
Along with Daniel Hand Co-op and the aforementioned teams, the Westie Sharks have also defeated Amity/Cheshire/North Haven Co-op. Their only loss was to New Canaan.
Before Saturday, the Tigers had prevailed in a pair of outstanding cliffhanger victories over Trumbull/Saint Joseph and Hamden Co-op.
After Daniel Hand's Cheyenne Wilson took a cross-ice feed from Hannah Rich in front of the crease and deposited a wrister from the right side to put the Tigers ahead 1-0 at the 6:38 mark of that initial period, West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy shifted into high gear.
Olivia Twarowski, a freshman at West Haven High School, provided the equalizer with a backhander through the five-hole. Less than a minute later, senior forward Chase Ireland (Sacred Heart Academy) took a pass from junior center Ashley Welch (West Haven High School) and one-timed a blast into the back of the net to put the Westie Sharks up 2-1 before Picard's first goal increased the lead to 3-1.
Tigers stay tough
The Tigers would not go down without a battle and made it a one-goal game with just over two minutes gone in the second period when Kendall Dobratz launched a missile from the left circle that found its mark and cut the deficit to 3-2.
After Plunkett's unassisted tally at the 4:30 mark of that middle frame upped the advantage to 4-2, a critical and potential turning point in the contest occurred.
With three players from the Daniel Hand squad breaking out on an unobstructed rush from the red line, West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy goalie Belle Desrosiers made a point-blank glove grab on a shot from the right circle to preserve the two-goal advantage.
Desrosiers, a junior netminder from Sacred Heart Academy, finished with 26 saves.
That stop proved critical because the Tigers stayed aggressive and kept it close once again at 4-3 as Cora Buzzard skated through the slot and scored on a one-timer minutes later.
The Westie Sharks' quick-strike offense charged right back and just 20 seconds after Buzzard's goal the lead grew to two goals yet again as West Haven High School senior forward Melissa Tsakonas capitalized on her opportunity.
West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy started to pull away when, during a several-minute stretch midway through that second period, Picard and junior defenseman Julianna Montano were on target with rapid-fire goals.
As the buzzer sounded, the Westie Sharks were in control and skated out on to the new sheet of ice for the final 15 minutes with a 7-3 advantage.
West Haven High School's Olivia Twarowski and Daniel Hand's Jaimey DiNapoli took the first shots for their respective teams to start the third period, and each resulted in a goal.
With the scoring spree now standing at 8-4, West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy put the exclamation point to their all-around performance as Plunkett and sophomore defenseman Rachel Harrison (Sacred Heart Academy) lit the lamp to cap the 10-goal eruption.
Daniel Hand goalie Chloe Monahan made one of the great saves of the game late in the second period when she reacted perfectly to a breakaway attempt by Picard. Monahan reached out for the blistering riser and clutched it with her glove as the large crowd cheered her effort.