MORRISTOWN _ A three-goal lead didn't put Morristown-Beard at ease in the NJSIAA Girls Ice Hockey Prep Championship game.
It sounds comfortable, especially because the Crimson built their advantage, scoring a goal in each period, and held it into the closing stanza. Still, Morristown-Beard, a bit sluggish at the start, worried when Princeton Day School avoided being shut out by receiving a goal from Gia Massari 7:15 into the closing period.
Forty-nine seconds later, the Crimson, courtesy of Keegan Heher's goal, were up by three again and feeling much better. And, by game's end on Tuesday, Feb. 13, Morristown-Beard's players were exuberant, reveling in their 4-1 victory over PDS that enabled them to notch back-to-back prep crowns.
"We came out nervous today. We were a little flat," said Heher, who also had an assist. "We rallied together and began to connect. We backchecked and battled on the boards. We did all of the things that lead to a win."
Heher's tension-reducing goal came off a pass from Ally Detre. Heher, a senior center, was stationed in the slot and Detre put the puck on her stick. Heher shot and the puck went off the left post and eluded Princeton Day goalie Jillian Wexler (31 saves).
"I heard the ding of the post and turned to celebrate," Heher said. "They had just scored so it was an important goal. We got the momentum back."
Morristown-Beard did not take the Panthers lightly in spite of the fact that the visitors' roster is laden with underclassmen. The Crimson knew they'd have to be consistent throughout to retain the title. Last winter, Morristown-Beard prevailed 2-1 over a much more experienced team.
Grace Urbano gave the Crimson a 1-0 lead when she converted 1:17 into the opening period. Urbano, whose defense was stellar as well, was set up by Emily Kitchin and Leslie Phillips. Kitchin extended the advantage to 2-0 by scoring 4:03 into the second period off a pass from Heher. The third goal came off the stick of Detre 5:52 into the third period. Jenna Kurz initiated the scoring sequence by picking up a loose puck and hitting it off the boards. Detre took control and stickhandled around a Princeton Day defender before flipping the ball over Wexler's right shoulder.
Everything and everyone was in sync by then. The Panthers' goal jarred Morristown-Beard but they maintained a high level of play.
"We stuck with it mentally today," said Detre, the senior center who will play hockey at Wesleyan. "Our coach was not pleased with us at first. Sometimes, the puck doesn't go your way. We weren't making good decisions. We weren't doing the little things right. We weren't connecting. We were sloppy."
Earlier in the day, Detre and several teammates watched the U.S. Women's Ice Hockey Team battle Russia in a preliminary-round game. That helped get them fired up for the championship clash with Princeton Day.
"The U.S women are the best in the world," Detre said. "They're so skilled. They're great inspiration for us and younger girls."
Crimson coach Bruce Driver was glad his squad achieved one of its goals and credited them with righting themselves following a lackluster start.
"The is a great win for us," Driver said. "Give Princeton Day credit. They played hard and played smart. This is always something we want to do. It's important to the kids, the parents, the school and the community. We had a little trouble adjusting to what they were doing. There are a lot of details that I see that others don't see. Our girls set the bar high and want to reach it. They knew they weren't playing up to their standards and raised their games."
In addition to Urbano, Jenna Pych and Anna Bajak played excellent "D." Driver said Bajak displayed "poise with the puck."
"Anna wasn't rushing passes," Driver said. "We've talked about that all season. We want the players to pass to someone."
The championship actually could be considered Morristown-Beard's third in a row. The Crimson triumphed in the title game in 2006 before the prep tournament was suspended for 11 years. Either way, Morristown-Beard was elated by the outcome.
"It's a great way to end my last season," said Heher, headed to the University of Richmond, where she will play lacrosse. "To do it with these girls is a great accomplishment. It's a testament to our hard work. It's an amazing feeling. We take nothing for granted. We gave it all we had and pulled it out. It's awesome."
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