By Rick Menning
(Editor's Note: This is the latest in a series featuring the Shoreline Sharks teams in the New England Girls Hockey League and the Connecticut Hockey Conference.)
NORTHFORD, CT -- When two evenly matched members of the youth blade brigade in the New England Girls Hockey League meet on the frozen surface, there is usually plenty of suspense and many twists and turns.
Such was the case last Saturday night as two 16-under age group rivals -- the Shoreline Sharks and Mid Fairfield Stars -- went back and forth as the momentum continually shifted throughout the 1-1 tie at the Northford Ice Pavilion.
With a standing-room-only crowd in the White Rink lending loud vocal support for every offensive surge and defensive stand by their respective teams, the Sharks and Stars lived up to the high expectations for this mighty showdown with plenty of positives.
Among those positives for the Sharks were the superior performances of starting goalie Emily Krauss and Virginia Curello, who entered between the posts midway through the second period.
Krauss stopped all 14 shots she faced including several partial breakaways, while Curello turned aside 12 of 13 shots including some key rejections at critical times.
It took a perfect pass through two Shoreline defenders for the Stars to earn the equalizer with 7:49 left in the game after Sophia Nower had given the Sharks a 1-0 advantage with a tip-in from the edge of the crease early in the first period.
Nower stayed strong in traffic near the paint and followed up Trinity Sweeney's initial shot by poking at the puck into the net.
The score remained 1-0 until the third-period Stars' goal.
With Curello perfectly positioned to defend her left side of the net, the puck somehow found its way through the Sharks' tough defensive effort and all the way to the right for the Mid Fairfield shot into the open side.
Back and forth play
Aside from those two goals, the action was fast-paced as the Sharks answered every opportunity by Mid Fairfield with an opportunity of their own.
Inspired by Nower's goal, Julia Crisci, Joanne Wimler and Sweeney kept the pressure on in the first period with solid rushes. Wimler's shot from the point in the closing seconds of the initial 15 minutes almost found the mark.
The Shoreline skaters continued at full speed into the offensive zone in the second period as Jordan King's shot on net was followed a short time later by great pursuit through the neutral zone led by Maya Komorowski.
Persistence on the attack enabled Nower and Wimler to use their stickhandling abilities to avoid Mid Fairfield forechecking and find some lanes for scoring attempts.
Just before the game's midway point, Wimler launched a high-powered blast that sailed just over the crossbar.
Whenever Mid Fairfield went on a rush, the Sharks applied a tenacious 'D' and in a couple of instances in particular Ryleigh Gagnon and Kimberly Evans knocked the puck off the sticks of charging Stars' forwards to break up plays.
The most dazzling defensive gem in the second period was polished by Curello, who just a few minutes after taking over in goal faced a 3-on-1 rush by the Stars.
With all the poise of a veteran netminder, Curello saw the play setting up, pivoted over to her right and knocked away the shot for a sensational save. She later added a stretched-out glove grab on a shot targeted for the top right corner.
As the third period got underway, a pair of Sharks lines -- Jordan Hopping, Nower and Wimler; and also Ellen Barto, Brynn Cunningham and Komorowski -- kept the game in attack mode with good stickwork and passing. Barto made an awesome move around a Mid Fairfield defender to actually manage a shot in heavy traffic.
The Shoreline Sharks had one more chance to regain the lead with time running down on the clock when Cunningham and Evans raced into the 'O' zone on a 2-on-1 break but the shot was swatted aside.