By Rick Menning
DANBURY, CT -- If Emily DeFalco had a few butterflies prior to taking the ice for the Islanders Girls Elite Hockey 14-Under game against the host Hat Tricks at the Danbury Ice Arena on Saturday afternoon, she certainly didn't show it.
"I try to keep my head in the game and not get too nervous," said the 13-year-old after she put the exclamation point to her team's super performance with a flurry of incredible shutdown saves in the closing 90 seconds of the 2-2 outcome. "It was so exciting to play on the Whale's home ice."
Rising to the occasion in the prelude to the day's Premier Hockey Federation attraction between the Connecticut Whale and Minnesota Whitecaps, DeFalco and her teammates put on quite a display of heart and determination against an equally hard-working Hat Tricks squad.
After Mary Breckling and Charlotte Reis displayed that tenacity deep in the offensive zone as the dynamic goal-scoring duo for the Islanders, DeFalco capped the all-around play with four point-blank saves over the final minute-and-a-half of the youth hockey contest.
"I was just hoping to keep the puck out of the back of the net," said DelFalco, who attends St. Mary's School in Manhasset, N.Y. "I just tried to angle off the player shooting the puck and give them as little space as possible."
Her effort -- which included two stick swipes, one blocker snag and a super glove grab on a rocket blast headed for inside the far post -- enabled the Islanders to preserve the well-played tie before an appreciative crowd in Danbury.
"Emily was amazing. She means so much to our team," said Jacqueline Hong, who along with Andie Corber anchored the defense for the first line of Breckling, Reis and Ava West.
The second-line 'D' of Chloe Katagas and Julia Mendoza Pineyro also made it tough for the Hat Tricks to get into a rhythm offensively as they along with Hong and Corber provided good poke checks and clearing plays.
In both the first and second periods during odd-man rushes by the Hat Tricks, DeFalco reached out as far as she could to make sure the puck went into her glove and not the net.
"Emily is an insane goalie," Corber said of the Islanders' top netminder. "She saves so many shots and helps us so much. In one game when we played a really strong team, Emily faced 50 shots and stopped 45 of them. It was unreal."
There for rebounds
Reis' goal, coming on a power-play opportunity midway through the third period, resulted from a perfect pass from West -- who had dug the puck out of the corner -- and Reis proceeded to fire home a rebound for the tying score. Breckling also capitalized on a rebound chance from around the crease for her goal.
"(Our line) passes a lot and we also have each other's back on rushes," Reis said. "We like to chip the puck a lot because we know there's going to be someone there to get it and we can take off on (odd-man breakouts)."
Like the rest of her teammates, Reis was thrilled to be playing in the same arena where the Connecticut Whale play their home games.
"Oh my gosh; it's so cool," she said. "You have so many (Whale players) to look up to, and then it's like 'I'm on the same ice as them!' It was so inspirational."
It wasn't only the Islanders Girls' first line that impressed on Saturday. The second line featuring Ella Rowe, Skyler Derector and Neve Brierton also made the most of their shifts with solid skating and stickwork.
"It's really fun to follow (the first line) out there. The game was really equal so it's all about passing and working together and I think we do that really well as a team," Rowe said.
Dancing and bonding
That chemistry is evident both on and off the ice.
"We have such a great bond. It's so much fun with the girls," she continued. "We dance together and go places together. It's such a friendship."
Rowe, too, was thrilled with DeFalco's performance especially down the stretch.
"She awesome; just an amazing goalie," Rowe said. "We all love Emily. She's there for us every game."
For Hong and the defense, it's important to keep the workload for their goaltender as minimal as possible.
"We just try to do our best in front of (DeFalco) so she's doesn't have to work as hard," Hong said . "Of course, there's some things that we can be better at but we always play hard and use our strategies and hopefully good things will happen."
Other members of the Islanders Girls Elite 14-under roster are Alison Camp, Hanna Cote, Harper Craig, Alannah Gallagher, Jovana Moy and Josclyn Subelka.
On to Whale watching
After their game, the Islanders girls and their parents were invited up to the executive suites at the Danbury Ice Arena where they thrilled to the Connecticut Whale's sensational 5-1 victory over the Minnesota Whitecaps.
The win improved the Whale's record to 3-3-1 heading into Sunday's 1 p.m. matinee to close out the series against Minnesota.