KINGSTON, Mass. - Two teams with expectations of reaching TD Garden in March to vie for a state championship put on an excellent display of back and forth girls ice hockey in its finest form Saturday evening at The Bog.
14th-ranked Fontbonne got a goal from Shannon McIssac less than five minutes into the third period, but No. 3 Duxbury rallied late with a tally from Marissa Fichter as the two teams skated to a 1-1 draw.
The Ducks Samantha Moussailli and the Dragons Rachel Myette kept things scoreless through the first two frames, each making several spectacular stops along the way. Fontbonne (8-4-1) struck first in the third as a hustle play on the forecheck by McKenna Russell led to a shot through traffic that was deflected home by McIssac at 4:42.
Duxbury turned the heat for a strong finish and finally got rewarded with 1:15 remaining in the game. Jacqui Nolan rifled a shot on goal from the upper middle of the Fontbonne zone. Moussalli made the initial save but a scramble ensued in her crease. Hannah Murphy got a whack at the first rebound and then Fichter swopped in to bury the next chance.
The Dragons had two great chances to walk away with a win as both Ally Hammel and Murphy got off terrific looks in the final six seconds but Moussailli capped a brilliant effort with those two final stops.
"That was probably one of the best games I've seen in a couple of years," Fontbonne head coach Bob Huxley said. "It was back and forth, great skating on both sides. I only played two lines with an extra player but we matched them pretty evenly I thought. The goalies played well on both sides."
Added Dragons head coach Friend Weiler, "There's obviously a long history between the two programs and its gets them fired up., Its good to have games like this where you can go back to the drawing a little bit and work on some things and know that they're out there and we could conceivably see them again."
THE DUCKS LOOK MIGHTY AGAIN
Talent has never been an issue with Fontbonne. This is a program that won a Div. 2 state championship three years ago and took Duxbury to the final seconds at TD Garden two seasons back.
What the Ducks have now that they didn't have last year is goaltending. Moussalli and co-starter Jessica Oliveri are both talented freshmen and take turns starting. On this night, Moussail was particularly brilliant in the middle frame, weathering a six-shot flurry from about five feet in front of her crease while killing off a penalty.
Regardless of which girl is between the pipes, the Ducks have confidence in both that they haven't had since those back to back runs to the state finals.
"Both of our goalies have been changing up back and forth and they've both played excellent," Huxley said. "If you put the two of them next to each other with blinders on, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between them. They complement each other in practice and they work hard together in practice. They're competing for a spot but they are also helping each other compete. They are just great kids and they really work well together as teammates."
In a year where Fontbonne has already claimed a number of signature victories over the likes of Acton-Boxborough, Hingham and Austin Prep, Huxley knows that Duxbury is the team that matters most because they hold the trophy that his program wants to get back.
"I said to the kids, this is the road to the Garden right here, through Duxbury," he explained. "They are the two-time defending state champions so that's the team you have to come out and compete against."
DRAGONS NEVER QUIT
The reaction to picking up the one point was a little more subdued on the Duxbury side, the manner in which his charges reacted to the urgency of the situation gave Weiler reason to smile, among a few other things.
"The girls didn't give up and I'm proud of them about that," he said. "They didn't pack it in, they actually got stronger as the game went on. I thought our defensemen communicated a little bit better, which is a constant thing that we're harping on all the time. I think that some girls matured a little bit tonight and they know what its going to take to win. A tough team like Fontbonne gets you battle tested and I think that we have a lot to work on but I'm confident that when we need to, we'll work hard."