BURLINGTON – With the first girls hockey state tittle in both program's history on the line, the North Country Falcons and the Harwood Highlanders stood at their respective goal lines, ready to do battle for Division Two's ultimate prize.
A little over two hours later it was over.
A game filled with great saves, excellent scoring chances, hard hits and cagey coaching ended with Hayley Martini defeating Mikaella Doran 3:40 into overtime to give Harwood a 1-0 win and the program's first state title.
"It turned out to be a good game," said NCU coach Claude Paul, who in just his second season with the club took his girls to the big dance. "I think in the first period we had some jitters, but eventually we got our legs underneath us."
Going into the winter sports season, the North Country girls were one of the few favorites that could compete a for a championship in the 2012-2013 campaign. They lived up to expectations, making it to the title game to compete with the only team that hung two victories on the club all year: the number one ranked Highlanders.
When the puck dropped to start the game, Harwood showed their experience by controlling play early. They tested Doran repeatedly, seeing if the goalie could rebound from her rough outing last time the two teams faced off.
Mikaella was more than up to the task, turning aside shots with gusto, before her teammates got into the flow of the game.
"She stepped up to the plate and that is what we expected of her and she has done it all year for us," said Paul.
About five minutes into the contest the Falcons got rolling, warming up to the Gutterson crowd, which, captain Corrina Cota said, was a little intimidating.
"The loudness of the fans in the building, and the wide ice too, but definitely the big thing was how loud it was in the building," she said.
The play eventually evened out, but the momentum swung decisively in the Highlander favor when Anyas Morin delivered a bone crushing, picture-perfect body check at the 5:29 marker.
Had this been a boys game, not a problem, but unfortunately, checking is frowned upon in the girls game, so off she went to the box for two minutes.
Harwood seized the opportunity, getting off roughly a half-dozen shots on Doran while on the advantage.
Doran, once again, was flawless in her defense of the NCU cage.
With the penalty successfully killed, the Falcons would get a few more shots on Harwood keeper Siena Damon, but like Doran, she, wouldn’t budge, and it was 0-0 heading into the second.
Both clubs traded chances early in the second, with the Falcons getting the best of the looks.
Taylor Morley and Whitney Bernier each came close to getting that elusive first goal, but Damon stood her ground.
During the final five minutes of the second, each team would take a penalty, skate four aside, and have a power-play, not necessarily in that order.
Emilie Paul went into the box, and the Highlanders skated up a man until Martini took a penalty, followed by the subsequent 4-4 and then a NCU 5-4.
Still nobody could score.
In the waning moments of the period, the Falcons skated into the Harwood zone with a four-on-one.
The odd-man rush resulted in a weak shot on goal, and viscous chop job to Morin's helmet, resulting in a high-sticking infraction on Harwood, a possible Excedrin Headache #9 for Anyas and a power-play for the Falcons to start the third.
North Country was feeling it as the third period got underway.
They got their power-play clicking in the final minute of the advantage, and they didn't stop, getting pucks to the net for the remainder of the period.
"The third period has been our best period all year, and this game really proved it," said Cota.
Captain Cota's breakaway with 7:40 remaining was the best opportunity of the game for North Country.
She came streaking down the left side, cut in front and went high to the glove side, but Damon had the Falcons number all game long, making the save to preserve the tie.
On a scramble in front of the NCU net, Harwood got their last crack at a goal with 2:16 left in regulation, only to be denied by freshman phenom Doran, who finished the contest with 25 saves.
The clock wound down, the horn sounded and with Gutterson filling with fans waiting for the D I game to start, the two teams headed to overtime.
Eight minutes were put on the clock, and away we went.
Harwood tallied five shots in the extra session, with the fifth one going in to end a fantastic run by the Falcons top winter sports team from the 2012-2013 season.
"In the second and third it could have gone either way, and it takes a little flukey goal like that to determine a game like this," said Emily Doty.
With tears in their eyes, and the heaviest of hearts, the girls stood with dignity while accepting their second place awards.
After heading into the locker room, a few of the players came out and spoke about the game, the season and the future.
"I think we gave it our all out there," said Cota. "I don't think there was a lot of individual play. We played as a team and I am really proud of the girls.
"With Harwood having come here last year, they had a better understanding of what was going to happen, and they were prepared for it. Now we are prepared for it for next year."
She continued on about the season saying, "Everyone on the team improved a lot. We had two girls who have never scored a goal before score, Cassidy Webster scored for us against Stowe, which was big, and Bayla scored against Woodstock. We came from behind in a lot of games to win and we played together as a team more than we ever have."
Doty spoke about going from playing last season with the Lyndon Institute boys, a team that finished 3-17, to making a run at the championship with the Falcon girls this year.
"In the beginning I was still sort of skeptical, still trying to get used to the new team," she said. "But, the hour drive there and back is so worth it.
"Being here, rather than have my season kind of cancelled, is so worth it.
"It was one hell of a ride, we might not have got the win, but we still took second place and we still made history for NCU."
Coach Paul spoke about his team's growth pattern, something he mentioned at the beginning of the season as detail to keep an eye on as the 20-12-2013 campaign unfolded.
"We did grow as the season went along. We had out peaks and valleys, and you will have that with a young team, as opposed to Harwood who had a little more experience," he said. "The more experience you get, the less valleys you have.
"This is a big step for us. There is nothing like a hard loss to make you come back stronger, more determined and to push harder.
"I am proud of the girls and it was a great season. Tom and Tracy were great, and compared to last year we took some strides forward, and next year I think we can do even more."
The girls finish the year at 16-6-1, and with all but two players slated to return, and some promising rookies on the horizon, expect the Falcons to once gain be a contender next winter.