By Kevin D. Roberts
From The Register Citizen
The successful Connecticut Northern Lights Girls Hockey program, based in Simsbury, added a couple more titles to its impressive resume with state and New England championships in the U12 division.
The U16 team also did well, winning a state championship while getting to the semifinals of the New England U16 Tier II Girls Ice Hockey regional tournament. The U16 version of the Northern Lights lost 2-1 to eventual champion Biddeford, Maine, according to the USA Hockey Web site.
With the victory at the regional level, the U12 Silver Selects advanced to the nationals in West Chester, Pa., next month. The U12 Silver Selects ran through the Tier I New England Regional Championships with a 5-0 record on their way to the championship. In the first game, the Northern Lights shut out Concord, N.H., 3-0. In the second game, the Silver Selects edged the Connecticut Polar Bears 2-1.
The third game was a little easier, a 9-0 shutout of Burlington, Vt. It was on to the semifinals, with a matchup against the Rhode Island Selects. The Silver Selects advanced with a 4-1 victory, setting up a rematch with the Connecticut Polar Bears in the final.
In the final, the Northern Lights came up with the lone goal as they defeated the Polar Bears 1-0 for their second straight Tier I New England Regional championship.
The Northern Lights will play their first game in the national tournament on April 2 against Chicago Mission, the champion of the Central District.
In 2007, the Silver Selects went 4-1 at the national tournament, losing to eventual runner-up Assabet Valley of Concord, Mass., 5-2.
“It felt really good because we were representing all of New England,” center Stephanie Izzi, 12, said of playing at nationals. “We got third so that felt good.”
Izzi, of Lakeville, said she has been playing since the program started six years ago. Teammate and fellow center Tiana Cass, 11, has been playing in the program for five years. Cass, of Torrington, said she is really excited to go to nationals again.
“(The competition) gets better and better and it gets harder and harder to score goals,” Cass said. Cass said she also enjoyed the state championship win over the Polar Bears.
“It was awesome because we beat them 1-0 and we scored in the first period,” Cass said. “We had to hold them for the final two periods.”
The U16 team won the state championship by defeating the Connecticut Polar Bears in a second shootout, 2-0. The first shootout ended in a 1-1 tie.
“It was really tense for me being goalie,” Katrina Earl, 17, said of the experience. “I didn’t want to make a wrong move or do something wrong.” What made the finals matchup interesting for the U16 team, Earl said, was that they played the Polar Bears, a fierce rival. Despite not winning at the New England regionals, the experience was fun, Earl said. “A lot of the games in the tournaments we went to, we were fighting for our lives,” said Earl, a Goshen resident. Earl said she will play for the U19 team in the upcoming season. “Hopefully because of our great showing this year they’ll bump us to Tier I,” Earl said. Tier I is the most competitive level in girls hockey. Earl has played for the Northern Lights since the program began six years ago. She said that program president Ken Dixon recruited her and she has been playing ever since.
The Northern Lights advanced to the final by defeating the Wonderland Wizards in two games with scores of 3-0 and 1-0. The first game against the Polar Bears ended in a 1-1 tie.
Coach Aimee LaBarre was excited about the experience her team gained during the state tournament. “This was a great experience,” LaBarre said in an e-mail. “The season is so long and the girls have worked so hard for the duration, it was great to see their efforts end with a victory in states.” LaBarre said she has only been a part of a few teams that have had the heart and team spirit that last year’s team had. “The whole weekend on and off the ice was a big family get-together,” LaBarre said. “The girls ate together, joined in on an activity together and watched movies in the down time together. They truly acted as one.”