Girls’ youth hockey team makes national tournament

  • Miranda Benoit (above) and the Concord Capitals begin play today in the Tier-II U16 national championships. COURTESY PHOTO

  • Dominique Biron of the Concord Capitals skates against the Brewster Lady Bulldogs earlier in the season. Biron and the Capitals will face Brewster again on Thursday in the Tier-II U16 National Championships in South Burlington, VT.

  • The Concord Capitals celebrate their Tier-II U16 girls' hockey New England Championship on March, 20 in South Burlington, VT.

Monitor staff
Published: 3/30/2016 8:16:00 PM

They come from different towns and go to different schools, but these girls all agreed on one thing – they love playing hockey for the Concord Capitals.

“The reason this is kind of special is that most of these girls have played in Concord all the way through and they’ve gone on to prep school or high school, but they still want to play extra hockey in Concord, so that’s pretty cool,” said Chris Benoit, head coach for the Concord Capitals girls’ U16 team.

That U16 team has done something more than kind of special this season and will get to play even more extra hockey for its effort. The Capitals won the Tier-II U16 New England tournament earlier this month and now, starting on Thursday in South Burlington, Vt., they will be playing in the Tier-II U16 National Championships.

“Making nationals has been the number one goal for this team all along,” Benoit said.

The same basic team (give or take a few girls) came one game away from making it to the U14 nationals last year, but it lost in the New England title game to a team from Connecticut.

The core group moved up to U16 this season and played games every Sunday from September to late November. Once the high school, prep school and junior seasons started, the Capitals schedule slowed down until March. That’s when they won the state title (they had to beat only one other team – the Northern Cyclones out of Hudson – to claim that crown) to qualify for the New England tournament, which ran from March 18-20 in Burlington.

The Capitals’ first game in the regional tournament proved to be its toughest, a 6-4 win over a Connecticut team.

“We were down 2-1 early and our goalie struggled a little in that game, and the girls could have quit and mailed it in, but they didn’t,” Benoit said. “They played as a team and picked up their goalie and then she played great the rest of the tournament.”

Indeed. The Capitals beat the Maine Gladiators in their next game, 5-1, and then shut out a second Connecticut team, 6-0, in their third and final game of the round robin portion of the New England tournament. Those results put Concord in the final, where it beat the Gladiators for a second time, 6-2.

So, how did they do it?

“I would say that we are pretty solid defensively and the girls don’t stop skating, they are very aggressive,” said Benoit, whose daughter, Miranda, and niece, Isabelle, both play on the team. “They backcheck really hard, so it’s hard for other teams to get the puck out of their own zone, and then when they do get it out of the zone, the girls backcheck like crazy and just put so much pressure on the other team.”

Benoit, 51, is from St. Albans, Vt., played college hockey at Plymouth State (with Concord High boys’ hockey Coach Dunc Walsh) and then came to Concord after graduating in 1986. He’s been coaching hockey for the better part of three decades, and he’s been coaching this nucleus of girls “for the last five or six years,” with his brother Jeremy (Isabelle’s dad, who played college hockey at the University of Vermont), and Charles Sisson, whose daughter Morgan is on the team. Dwight Sperry, whose daughter Rose is on the team, joined the coaching staff this year after coaching girls’ hockey in Hanover for years. And Chris Benoit began teaching some of these girls hockey fundamentals long before they had the skill to go to a national tournament.

“One of the girls said, ‘Hey, Coach, remember when you were my coach and we were on the purple team?’ ” Benoit said with a laugh. “And I said, ‘You were like five or six then’ and she said, ‘I know.’ ”

Like the New England tournament, the national championships will be held in the Burlington area. The Capitals were hoping to stay in the same hotel they used a couple weeks ago, but USA Hockey dictates where teams stay for this event.

Concord’s first game at nationals is Thursday at noon at Cairns Arena in South Burlington (the same rink where the Capitals claimed the New England crown) against the Brewster Lady Bulldogs from New York. The teams actually played during the regular season and split a pair of one-goal games.

“Brewster has a girl on their team that has a full ride to Providence, and if we shut her down, we should be okay,” Benoit said.

Concord will then play the Brick Hockey Club out of New Jersey on Friday at 8 a.m. at Cairns. The Capitals will finish their scheduled games Saturday at 4 p.m. against the Colorado Roughriders at the Gordon H. Paquette Ice Arena in Burlington.

A total of 12 teams qualified for nationals and all 12 will play three games in three days. From there, the top eight teams get seeded and put into a single-elimination tournament. The quarterfinals are on Sunday morning, the semifinals Sunday night and the final will be Monday.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

 




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