LAKE PLACID - Before the Christmas break, the National Sports Academy girls were playing decent hockey, which had the Mountaineers looking at a .500 record.
Since that time, the team has been nearly unstoppable. On Sunday, Jan. 22, the Mountaineers kept an impressive run going and made history in the process, capturing their first championship in the 33rd annual Northwood Invitational at the Olympic Center.
NSA claimed the title by posting a 4-0 record over a three-day span, including a pair of playoff victories Sunday over one of the top girls prep school hockey programs in the United States - the North American Hockey Academy.
Lou Reuter/Lake Placid News
Players from the National Sports Academy girls hockey team, along with coaches Bill Ward and Kelli Vossler, celebrate their title following a 2-0 victory over the NAHA Red team in the championship final of the Northwood Invitational Sunday, Jan. 22 in the Olympic Center’s 1980 Herb Brooks Arena.
NSA won the championship with a 2-0 shutout victory Sunday afternoon over the NAHA Red team, but the Mountaineers biggest triumph came earlier that day when they edged NAHA White 3-2 in triple overtime to advance to the final. NAHA White, which is in the same league as NSA, is that prep-school's top squad, and with the win, the Mountaineers have now beaten their foe three times this season.
"After beating them, we thought we had it in the bag heading into the championship game," said NSA sophomore forward Kali Flanagan, who won MVP honors in the tournament's girls division. "Beating them in the third overtime was insane. That was a lot more amazing than our win in the championship game against their white team.
"We've been on a big roll since we got back from break," added Flanagan, who hails from Boston. "Winning this tournament was one of the team goals we set back in September and we got it done. It's an amazing feeling."
The Mountaineers won their opening round games by identical 5-3 scores, topping the New Jersey Colonials Friday and OHA Gold Saturday. With the wins, they moved into to Sunday's semifinal game and built up a 2-0 lead over NAHA White in the opening 25-minute half. But NSA had to hold on, as NAHA scored twice in the second half to tie the game 2-2 and force overtime. In three tense extra sessions, the Mountaineers finally came through when Megan Whiddon buried the game-winner in the third extra session.
With the four wins, NSA now has a 13-1-2 record since the team's holiday season break.
The title was NSA's first in tournament play this season.
"Even though Northwood hosts this tournament, this is the rink we play at, so winning here was huge for us," said NSA associate coach Kelli Vossler, a Vermontville native who graduated from the school and moved on to play collegiate hockey at Utica. "We only play about 10 games here each season, and it was great to be in front of our fans. Today was amazing. We beat both NAHA teams, and their school it the top-rated under-19 program in the country.
"It's been an unbelievable season so far," Vossler added. "Everybody on this team has a role, and we've really been playing as a team recently. As long as we are all on board, this team can be unstoppable, but there are a lot of games left."