WILMINGTON — As the year comes to a close and the season begins to gain momentum, the Wilmington Wildcats girl’s hockey team continues to compile losses, now four straight.
A discouraging pattern has emerged for this group, and it’s certainly not desirable for the players or the coaching staff. In the four games contested thus far, each was a one-goal loss.
That would include the Wildcat’s most recent bout with non-league opponent Bishop Fenwick, which featured yet another lights-out performance in net by Melanie Hayden, Ida Bishop’s second goal of the young season, and another smothering defensive effort, unfortunately all leading to a 2-1 defeat.
“We are close, and we’re keeping the games competitive,” said Wilmington coach John Lapiana. “I looked back on the website at previous results and the games now are more competitive than they have ever been. We’re in the hunt in every game.”
Lapiana agreed there were positives to be taken from the matchup with Bishop Fenwick, which came into the Ristuccia Arena on Saturday undefeated. Where in earlier games, the tendency was for the Wildcats forwards to hurry pucks out of the zone instead of setting plays and feeding linemates, the girls were sensing opportunity and crashing the net.
It was that fundamental technique that resulted in a go-ahead goal for Wilmington, minutes into the first period. Working the puck into the zone, Ida Bishop, Zoe DeRose, and Payton Fuller collapsed on the net, crowding Crusader goalie Cailyn Wesley. Fuller lifted a bid from the doorstep, knocked down by Wesley, but Bishop finished, golfing in the rebound to put the Wildcats ahead, 1-0.
“So all week, we’ve been working on moving pucks and bodies to the net,” Lapiana shared. “We focused on that specifically. If our opponent allows us entrance into the offensive zone, we’re going to carry. If they hold us at the blue line, we’re going to send the puck to an area where we can get to it first or at least battle for it.”
Bishop Fenwick answered seconds after Wilmington had successfully killed off a power play. Abbey Millman, on a feed from Zoe Elwell, lifted a backhander through a screen that beat Hayden glove side.
It was during the middle frame, with the teams knotted at 1-1, where Hayden shined. The Crusaders, seeking to wrestle the game away, peppered her with 18-shots, many labeled. Hayden stonewalled the relentless attack.
“She was off the charts today,” said Lapiana of his dynamic goalie. “Often, it’s a group effort but today, it was solo. Melanie was really on her game today and the reason we were in to the end.”
Wilmington wasn’t without scoring opportunities in the midst of the second period onslaught. Midway, Ashley Mercier caught the Crusaders on transition in the neutral zone and skated in on a clean breakaway. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get full control of the puck and could only muster a weak shot which Wesley easily denied. Later, the trio of Bishop, Fuller, and DeRose caused more havoc in front of the net but this time, Wesley wasn’t as generous with rebounds.
Aside from the obvious in Hayden, Lapiana also has high hopes for DeRose over the season ahead.
“Zoe does everything right,” said the coach of his junior forward. “She is always where she is supposed to be. She listens to what we have to say and tries to roll out what we teach. She does everything textbook and it will pay off for her eventually.”
With 1-second left in the second period and skating on the power play, Bishop Fenwick’s Lauren Diranian chopped in one of the few second chances surrendered by Hayden. The go-ahead goal, assisted by Gabby Davern, would ultimately stand up as the game-winner. Wilmington, however, was handed an opportunity to tie it in the final minutes and specifically, with 35-seconds remaining.
With Davern in the box, serving a five-minute major for a body check on Fuller, she was soon joined by Allison Countie for a hooking infraction. Lapiana pulled Hayden, adding another attacker to make it six-on-three.
The Wildcats owned the zone and Bishop got off a nice shot but Wesley deflected it away with the catching glove as time ran out on the Wildcats.