West Lebanon — The incredible shrinking Lebanon-Stevens girls hockey team moved on Tuesday, pinning an 8-1 defeat on visiting Keene during an NHIAA Division I tournament opening-round game at James Campion Rink.
The eighth-seeded Raiders fielded a full roster several years ago but have had barely enough players to compete the past two campaigns. They skated with six forwards and three defensemen against the ninth-seeded Blackbirds. They’ll likely use the same number to challenge top-seeded Exeter on the road at 4 p.m. Friday in a quarterfinal clash.
Lebanon-Stevens coach Brad Shaw said that despite Tuesday’s score, his team was not at its best.
“We played as well as we’ve played all season down at Exeter last weekend (during a 7-2 loss) and pretty much as poorly as we’ve played all season tonight,” the veteran bench boss said. “We were flat as a pancake. I’ve got my defense giving the puck right to the other team. I told them that if we do that on Friday, it will be 5-0 in the first period and we might as well go home.”
Said senior captain Sage Ballard: “It definitely wasn’t our best game. But when you play a team that’s not very good, you sometimes play down to their level.”
Grace Lindsay had a hat trick and three assists for Lebanon (8-10), which received a hat trick and two assists from Isabella Harriman. Julia Tibbits had a goal and an assist, and Kayleigh Treitsch had a goal. Ballard had three assists, Celia Barnett had two assists and Elizabeth Jones had one assist. Halle Drew made 13 saves.
The contest was played at a snail’s pace, presumably because Keene (5-10) had only five substitutes and Lebanon four, but Shaw hit on another factor.
“They had a couple of players who looked like they were going through the motions,” Shaw said.
Lebanon beat the Blackbirds twice during the regular season by a combined 20-6. On Tuesday, the hosts exploded for four goals during the first seven minutes and surrendered Keene’s only tally with a minute remaining in the second period.
Harriman began the onslaught by successfully converting a breakaway chance during the fifth minute. Tibbits scored 20 seconds later and Lindsay less than a minute after that. She tallied again midway through the opening stanza, circling back to put in a rebound after she was denied on a breakaway. Jones scored three minutes before the first intermission for a 5-0 lead.
“We told them we wanted to jump to a quick start, and if we’re going to have to have any success down at Exeter, we have to do the same thing,” Shaw said.
Added Harriman: “We haven’t been having good practices, so we were curious about how we were going to come out.”
Lindsay cashed in yet another breakaway 39 seconds into the second period, and Keene’s Sophie Streed scored to bring her team within 6-1 at the second intermission. Treitsch struck a minute and a half into the third period, and a pair of Harriman tallies during the final three minutes ended the contest’s offense.
“She’s been playing great,” Shaw said of Harriman, a senior and the team’s assistant captain. “She had her best game ever down at Exeter. She gets the puck off the boards and into the middle very quickly, and she’s a good positional player.”
Shaw said he and Lebanon athletic director Mike Stone had a discussion last year as to whether there would be enough players for a girls hockey team this winter. Then freshman goaltender Adrianna Maccioli suffered a season-ending knee injury and the Raiders had to recruit junior Halle Drew, who had never played before, to fill that position. Junior forward Julie Barber was lost to illness before Thanksgiving, and the team allowed a combined 37 goals while starting 2-4.
“What they’ve done to get here is an amazing accomplishment,” Shaw said. “It’s unbelievable that we’re going to a quarterfinal game.”
Harriman said she thinks her team is ready for the Blue Hawks (17-1), who recently upset seven-time defending state champion Hanover and have won 10 consecutive games.
“We know what to expect and how hard we’re going to have to work,” Harriman said. “We need to be on our A game, and I think everyone’s getting in that mental state now. I wouldn’t have thought we could have made it this far because our team is so small, so I’m really proud of everyone.”
Notes: Barber, who’s recovering from cancer but who can no longer walk, recently returned to the Upper Valley after time spent at a Massachusetts rehabilitation facility. Tuesday, she dressed in full uniform and used a sled hockey device to join the Raiders on the blue line for player introductions and the national anthem. She wore hockey skates, but with the blades removed, as is the practice in sled hockey. Barber watched the game from the end of the home bench. … Lebanon freshman forward Ella Lindsay is out for the rest of the season with a concussion. … Exeter beat Lebanon, 11-4, during the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 10.
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.