Woodstock High girls win back-to-back D-II hockey titles


Valle News Staff Writer

Published: 03-10-2023 11:21 PM

BURLINGTON — It wasn’t until Ian Coates arrived at the University of Vermont’s Gutterson Field House on Thursday that the 10th-year Woodstock High girls hockey coach realized he’d forgotten to pack the permament VPA Division II title plaque.

The coveted piece of wood and metal spends the school year at whichever institution last captured it. A smaller, season-specific version is given to the team to enjoy, as Woodstock did upon claiming last winter’s crown.

After the top-seeded Wasps’ 4-1 defeat of the third-seeded Kingdom Blades, however, there won’t be any shipping fees involved.

“Doesn’t matter now,” Coates said with a grin. “It’s waiting for us back at the school.”

Senior Isabel Konijnenberg produced a hat trick and an assist and sophomore Kassidy Haley also scored. Junior Meridian Bremel made nine saves for the Wasps (19-4-0), while freshman Taylor Blais stopped 16 shots for the Blades (18-5-0), several of them on outstanding plays.

Woodstock lost two of its three regular-season clashes with Kingdom, which is a conglomeration of players from eight different schools, including three eighth graders from middle schools. The Blades also featured six freshmen and no seniors, making them a likely title threat for years to come.

“We watched a lot of (video), and some of us even went to their (semifinal) game,” said Woodstock defender Lily Gubbins, one of her team’s three seniors. “We looked at the way they break out, the way they play defense and the way their power play works. They leave a lot of space when we’re in the offensive zone, so we decided to spread out and really use that.”

Said Coates: “I have a smart group of girls who really do their homework.”

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Woodstock held an 11-1 shot advantage during the first period, scoring on its last attempt. An onrushing Konijnenberg blew in off the left wall from high in the offensive zone, cut sharply around a defender in the circle and watched her close-range shot ramp up Blais and over her shoulder at the near post.

“I scored our first goal in the championship last year pretty much the same way,” Konijnenberg said. “You have to find grit within and not over-complicate things. Ian’s always encouraging me to power past people. I just kind of shoveled it at her.”

Coates chuckled when asked about No. 20, whom he’s sometimes discovered running sprints or lifting weights after practices.

“She goes into beast mode as a two-way player,” the coach said. “Yes, she gets a lot of points, but she’s almost too defensive sometimes, and that work creates offensive chances.”

The Blades missed several prime scoring opportunities during a scoreless second period while the Wasps relied on more deliberate, physical play in an attempt to counter their smaller, quicker foes. Kingdom’s willingness to chase the puck left openings, and Woodstock capitalized two minutes into the third period.

Backskating defender Gabrielle Griffith fell at her blue line, allowing Konijnenberg and Haley to break in alone on Blais. The former passed across the slot to the latter, who swept the puck into the twine for a 2-0 lead.

Kingdom halved its deficit six minutes later when Gabbi Young redirected home a Griffith shot from the right point. Woodstock answered with two minutes remaining, Konijnenberg striking on a wraparound shot at the right post that showcased her blend of power, skill and balance.

“That was a huge momentum change,” said Konijnenberg, who closed the scoring with a little more than a minute to play. “That ignited a sense of camaraderie within our team, and that’s what makes us so strong.”

Woodstock went 21-1-0 last season, knocking off neighboring Hartford in the finals and graduating four seniors. The Wasps suffered losses to Division I Essex and the Blades during their first six games this season.

“We knew it was a different team than last year,” Gubbins said. “There were a lot of early-morning practices and a lot of extra time on the ice. We started off rough, but we took the feelings that we felt after some losses and flipped it around.”

Coates said encouraging his defenders to join the attack is a long-held tactic that paid off this season, along with a renewed commitment to defense during the playoffs. Having experienced last season’s title-game atmosphere aided the Wasps’ poise, he said.

“We’d been here before and the core of our team could feed off that confidence,” Coates said. “This team plays with a lot of passion and a lot of people from the community came to support them.”

Said Konijnenberg: “It’s easy to feel ‘imposter syndrome,’ like you’re not deserving of being in the spot you are. But the seasons we’ve had two years in a row convinced us that we belonged here and helped us stay cool, calm and collected.”

Notes: Konijnenberg is headed for Williams (Mass.) College in the fall, where she’ll play soccer and may also give hockey a shot. The women’s soccer Ephs reached the NCAA Division III tournament’s round of 16 last season while the women’s hockey team was 11-12-1 this winter. … In what’s fast becoming a title-game tradition, a sign referencing Woodstock’s “YASS QUEENS” was prominently displayed in the student section’s front row. Konijnenberg said it’s slang for the affirmative phrase “Yes, Queens!” and that the latest version has hung in Spanish teacher Betsie O’Neill’s classroom during the current school year. The first such placard appeared at last year’s hockey championship match and again during the field hockey team’s title-game triumph last fall. … The Wasps’ jerseys feature the initials JH on the back hem, a nod to the late John Hilbert, who Coates said helped start girls hockey in Woodstock. One of his granddaughters, Wasps sophomore defender Elizabeth Tindall, played her first season in the sport this winter. … The Blades were a Division I team last season. … The Wasps’ four losses each came by one goal. … Woodstock lost to Missisquoi in the 2019 finals.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.