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Mitch's Sports Report: Vermont Native Ilona Maher Is Crushing It For U.S. Women's Rugby Eagles

The Boston Bruins got a sparkling effort from goalie Jaroslav Halak who stopped all 26 shots the Philadelphia Flyers sent his way, and the Bruins went on to a 3-0 win in their first game back in Boston following a four-game Canada road trip.

Halak and Flyers goalie Brian Elliott both put up zeroes in a scoreless first period and Halak was at his best in the second, turning away several excellent chances, including a breakaway by Claude Giroux and a one-timer by the Flyers captain off a two-on-one break, earning his second shut-out of the season and 44th of his career.

The Bruins got two goals from Zdeno Chara, who opened the scoring and finished it with an empty netter. Jake DeBrusk tallied on the power play with a deflection in the crease off a pass from David Krejci. The Bruins improve to 6-2-2 with the win.

The Montreal Canadiens lost in regulation for just the first time in their last six games, a 4-3 setback to the Sabres in Buffalo last night. Jeff Skinner had three assists for the Sabres, who trailed three times by a goal and rallied each time, getting the eventual game winner off the stick of Kyle Okposo on the power play with just a minute left to go in regulation. The Sabres have now won three in a row.

Max Domi scored twice and Joel Armia added another for Montreal in the losing effort.

The Boston Celtics haven't gotten off to the start they wanted this season, but it's worse for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are still winless four games into their season after blowing a 16-point lead in a 101-95 loss to the Celtics last night.

The Celtics recovered from that first half deficit, led by Jayson Tatum's 24 points. Marcus Morris turned in a 21-point, 10-rebound double double, and Al Horford added 19. The Thunder still have two of the NBA's best players in Paul George, who had 22, and Russell Westbrook, who finished with 13 points and 15 boards, so their sluggish start is probably an anomaly, but the Celtics will take it as they improve to 3-2.

There hasn't been a whole lot of defense in the NFL this season and that continued last night in Houston where Deshaun Watson threw five touchdown passes in the Texans' 42-23 rout off the Miami Dolphins.

One of the star players on the USA Rugby Women's National Team is a Burlington native who recently scored three tries against Australia, one of the best Rugby Sevens teams in the world.

Ilona Maher is currently in San Diego training with the USA Rugby women's Eagles, and the 22-year old told me she's relatively new to her now-favorite sport.

"I went to Burlington High School, and I played field hockey, basketball, and softball there. My senior year I just wasn't really that into softball anymore, so I looked at some things and saw that there was a local rugby team at South Burlington High School, and my Dad's played rugby for a while, he started the program at St. Mike's, and so I tried rugby and found I was pretty good at, it and it just kind of started to roll from there", she says.

Maher became a high school all-American in the sport at South Burlington High School and went on to play rugby at Norwich University and then at Quinnipiac.

Now, with the Women's Eagles USA team she's playing Sevens, which she describes as a kind of condensed version of the traditional fifteen versus fifteen rugby format. In Sevens, which is the version of the game that will be featured in the Olympics, there are seven players per side and the games are shortened to fourteen minutes, but played full-field in a faster-paced fashion.

Maher says it was a big deal to defeat Australia in the quarterfinals of qualifying matches recently, because they were the number one Sevens team in the world.

Her travel schedule in qualifying rounds will include trips to Dubai, Sydney, Australia, Japan, Canada, and Paris, plus the Pan Am Games in Peru.

Maher says her love of rugby is all about the physicality of the sport.

"It's the only full contact sport for women out there", she says. "I mean, men have football and lacrosse and hockey, these sports where it's OK for them to hit each other, it's OK for them to tackle each other, no one's worried about it, but when women try it it's almost like 'Oh, God, you're going to get hurt'." 

Maher says the women who play rugby know the risks and embrace the physical nature of the sport, and she says it's a bonding experience like no other.

"After each tournament I try to go and talk to each team" says Maher. "And I have friends on the Spanish team, I have friends on the Irish team, and I know that right now I still crave that team environment, and I'm happy that I get to do it and that it's my job."  

Finally, game three of the World Series is tonight in Los Angeles with the Boston Red Sox up two games to none on the Dodgers. It'll be Rick Porcello for Boston against Walker "Don't call me Ferris" Buehler for L.A.

The Dodgers led the N.L. in home runs this season and Porcello can be susceptible to giving up the gopher ball so he'll need to keep the likes of Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, and Cody Bellinger from going yard at Chavez Ravine tonight. Red Sox manager Alex Cora could turn to lefty Eduardo Rodriguez if things go sideways for Porcello early, but the veteran righty and former Cy Young winner is making his first ever World Series start, and would dearly love it to be a victory that would give the Red Sox a stranglehold on the series.

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