On the final shift of the third period yesterday, Jessie Vella nearly sent a message straight to Old Man Overtime’s smartphone telling him he would not be required to visit Schneider Arena.
When she failed to deliver that, speedily churning the puck around the Connecticut cage and into the slot, only to watch her assertive backhander leap over the crossbar, her coach let her know she had whiffed on a particularly radiant opportunity.
“I kind of gave her evil eye and she kind of gave me the evil eye back,” said PC women’s skipper Bob Deraney.
No surprise there. The Pickering, Ont. product had just seen her goal-less streak extended to 22 consecutive 60-minute battles, dating back to Oct. 23. She was still without a non-empty netter since Oct. 9, two days before her home country’s Thanksgiving, equaling a hex of 27 regulation games.
But in the subsequent sudden-death stanza, long-awaited gratitude was right around the corner –specifically, the far corner of the Huskies’ zone- for Vella. Friars’ defender Amber Yung slugged the puck from the near point behind the net, where winger Jean O’Neill retrieved it and found Vella waiting on the porch.
A simple one-time snapper on O’Neill’s pass beat UConn goaltender Nicole Paniccia, ended the game, ended Vella’s drought, and wrapped up PC’s bid for a Hockey East playoff spot.
“I’m just really excited,” Vella said. “I’ve been working really hard and the whole goal of this weekend was to drive to the net, get there, work really hard, and sacrifice your body. I drove the net, Jean made a nice pass and we were rewarded for it, finally.”
Vella’s walk-off strike was her third shot on goal of the day, her fifth overall attempt, and her 24th SOG in her last seven games, nearly doubling her bushel of 25 from the season’s first 23 dates. Apart from that, save for an assist on Jan. 2, her contributions since New Year’s had been strictly intangible. But those included consistent stinginess on the penalty kill and using her turbine blades to draw regular opposing infractions a la top gun Kate Bacon.
“She put herself in a good position to score goals and just didn’t get rewarded for it,” said Deraney. “And that’s probably the least skilled play she made today, is the one she scored on. But if you keep going to the hard areas, you’re going to get rewarded, one way or another.
“Whether it’s fancy or whether it’s ugly, it doesn’t matter. It was nice to see her hard work get paid off. She had been putting a lot of pressure on herself because she’s a winner, she’s a competitor, and she wants to contribute to the success of this team as much as anybody.”
That desire had not been enough of late, until after Vella got that disgruntled glare on the bench.
Did it help?
“Definitely,” she said. “Coach is always there to inspire you and he definitely did inspire me in his own way, and it’s just nice to finally contribute to the team the way I know that I can.”
Al Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press