Assistant Sports Editor
MANCHESTER -- During the regular season, the Burr and Burton Academy girls hockey team fell to, then drew with, Northfield during the month of December.
Saturday, the girls will get their third chance to topple the Marauders -- with a spot in the Lake Division finals on the line.
The 5:30 p.m. semifinal game at Riley Rink will pit the No. 2 Bulldogs against the No. 3 Marauders. The two teams have a history in big tournament games dating back to the U-12 level, and on Saturday there will be one more chapter written in the book between the two.
This season began with a match between the two sides, which Northfield won 2-1 on Dec. 4. The teams then met again on Dec. 28 and drew 3-3 in the Middlebury Tournament. BBA advanced to the semifinal with a 6-0 win over Mount Mansfield, while Northfield topped Rice 6-2.
Here are five things to watch out for in the game today:
1) Stopping Kristen Dukette -- Make no mistake about the offensive focus of the Marauders. Dukette already owns Northfield’s all-time scoring marks with a year left to play, and the Bulldogs are well aware of her deadly abilities.
In the first game of the season, Dukette netted both goals to lift her team to the win despite being man-marked the entire game. In the second contest, the BBA duo of Aggie Bisselle and Daisy Sullivan held Dukette to one point, an assist, with their man-marking duties.
Describing their duties, Bisselle said that they have to be "always staying on her and making sure they can’t get a good pass to her and let her get on a breakaway."
"If we just shut her down as an option, I think we’ve done our job," Sullivan added.
Northfield does have other capable scorers amongst its three lines -- Lindsey Bergeron scored twice in the tie while DJ Doney also tallied -- but the team is hoping that if they can frustrate Dukette, it will throw off the Marauders’ offense as a whole.
"If you can frustrate her and deny her the puck, that’s huge," said BBA coach Ed Lewicki. "[Bisselle’s and Sullivan’s] responsibility is huge, every minute that they are on the ice they have to be looking for [Dukette],"
2) Which Bulldog steps up -- The one downside to the defensive duties that Bisselle and Sullivan have is that the pair are the top-scoring forwards on their respective lines. Bisselle has led the line on a deadly unit of her, Jordan Harmon and Mary Leech while Sullivan, one of the team’s captains, has been a major threat on her line with Kristi Lewicki and Megan Grabher.
With the two busy working hard on defense, coach Lewicki is looking to the other four to step up and take over the load.
"It is huge, it is a big responsibility for [the other four] to score goals. We are asking Daisy and Aggie to be more defensive," Lewicki said. "We need Kristi and Megan to do their thing and we need Jordan and Mary to do theirs."
That’s not to say that Sullivan and Bisselle won’t get their chances, though. Coach Lewicki wants his team to dump the puck deep, forcing Northfield to chase the puck down while allowing themselves to use the space on the ice to their advantage.
"We are going to mark [Dukette], but when we have clear possession we are going to let Daisy and Aggie go," Lewicki said. "That right there means we need the puck deep. If we are going to let her go while we are attacking, we need to be down there attacking and make her come the full length so we can catch her."
3) Taking advantage of home ice -- The Bulldogs are relishing being able to play the game at Riley Rink not just because it is the team’s home ice. It has to do with the size of the rink.
Riley Rink is the only official Olympic-sized rink in the state. That means more surface to play on, and it is something that BBA has utilized all season.
"When we go on little sheets, it seems like we are lost with our passing sometimes and it is hard to adjust to," said Leech, the other captain on the team. "When we are on this ice, it just clicks."
In technical terms, the Bulldogs use the wider sheet of ice by playing with more width. Pucks to the boards and across the ice are a fixture of the Bulldogs at home, and Lewicki wants to see that continue on Saturday.
"We want to just kind of do what we did [against MMU], attack with our speed," Lewicki said. "Go wide, create time and space."
"Skating, legs, speed, passes, we can do so much more on this ice," Leech said. "It’s imperative that we all give 100 percent. We all did against MMU. It was 100 percent to the boards, the 50/50 pucks, up and down the ice. That is what it is going to be and that is what is going to make the difference."
4) Which netminder has the better day -- Neither team could get to their identical 16-3-2 marks without stellar play in net, and both BBA’s Kaylie Benson and Northfield’s Markie Delude will be called upon again to help their teams to a win.
In the tie between the two, Benson was off of her regular game as she let up two goals that she is normally all over. But that game was a long time ago, and Benson will enter Saturday hot off of a stellar performance in the quarterfinals. Making 20 saves while keeping MMU off the board, Lewicki said that Benson’s performance was good and that he hopes it carries over.
"I thought she did great last night. If she plays like that, I’ll be very happy," Lewicki said.
Leech described Benson as "a rock" for the Bulldogs all season, and Bisselle added: "It is really nice to know that if they do get a breakaway, we have Kaylie back there to protect us."
Opposite Benson, Delude has been another stellar goalie in the Lake Division.
In the Marauder’s 2-2 tie with No. 1 Middlebury in the second-to-last game of the season, Delude came up with 28 saves to deny the Tigers a shot at the win.
5) The penalty battle -- In Wednesday’s win, BBA was lucky that the Cougars could not capitalize on three Bulldog penalties in the first period. Saturday, Lewicki does not want to take that chance again.
"We talked about it as soon as the game was over," Lewicki said. "They were [lazy], we weren’t moving our feet at the beginning of the game. Hopefully we can stay out of the penalty box."
And while the man-advantage presents an obvious advantage for the team on the power play, the Bulldogs also know that any man-down situation will make it hard for them to cover their defensive responsibilities on Dukette.
"They will make us pay," Lewicki said. "It is hard to man-mark her when you’re on the penalty kill."
the penalty battle will also be important when the Bulldogs get the advantage. BBA has had a knack for using power play goals to their advantage, as the team did in a win over Middlebury earlier this season when Leech scored the team’s second goal in a 3-2 win on the power play and Grabher netted the winner in a 4-on-4 situation.