St. Mary’s goalie Emily Stephenson has been one of seniors on which coach Frank Pagliuca has relied.
By SCOT COOPER
The Division 1 North girls’ hockey playoffs are well represented by teams from the North Shore.
St. Mary’s is back, locked into the No. 8 seed, with the Lynn/Winthrop Bulldogs just missing the Top 10, grabbing the 11th seed.
Peabody-Lynnfield made the tournament for the first time in the program’s history, thanks to a great run to close the regular season; the Tanners are the No. 19 and final seed. Another local squad that qualified weeks ago, Beverly-Danvers, with just one loss, is the No. 2 seed, a game behind unbeaten Needham.
Spartans coach Frank Pagliuca said his 13-4-3 team relies on the outstanding play, and outstanding leadership from his talented group of seniors, goalie Emily Stephenson, behind defenders Sarah Ryan and Ashley Wojewodzic and forwards Brittany McPherson and Adara Nazarian.
“Obviously we’re very excited to have a fresh start in the playoffs. We’re all looking forward to starting the tournament.” Pagliuca said. “It’s an interesting matchup for us in the first round, against Duxbury, certainly one of the perennially great programs in the state, we’re fortunate to get them at home (Saturday at a time still to be determined).”
“Even though we’re at home, and we’d much rather be at home than have to go down to Duxbury, they are a very formidable opponent,” Pagliuca said. “They’ve won 4-5 state championships, they won when they were in Division 2 they won when they moved up to Division 1, so we’ve got a tough task ahead of us.”
Pagliuca said it’s going to be an intense week of practice getting ready for Duxbury, who enters the tournament on a 7-game winning streak and rolls out three solid lines to put the pressure on the opponent to match their depth.
“They are a very aggressive, very good skating team, they’re relentless on both ends of the ice, so we are going to have our hands full on Saturday,” Pagliuca said.
Pagliuca said that after a 2-2 start to the 2016-2017 season the Spartans really improved as a team, including a solid 10-game unbeaten streak that really set the tone for the year and got them into the playoff picture.
“We scuffled a little bit to close the season, but I think we’re prepared to play our best hockey against Duxbury next weekend,” Pagliuca said.
Like St. Mary’s, Winthrop/Lynn (12-6-0) has a bye in the preliminary round and will take on No. 6 Westford Academy in a first-round game where the date has not been determined.
Even though the Grey Ghosts have a solid team and are a higher seed, Lynn coach Anthony Martucci and his team couldn’t be happier with the matchup.
“They beat us last year (4-0 loss in the preliminary round) right off the bat, so we’re looking for a little revenge going into this game, ”Martucci said. “We’re excited to be in the tournament, and to have a chance to play against Westford is certainly something we’ve all been thinking about since we were knocked out last year.”
“Coming down to the end of the season, we dropped a couple of games we feel were very winnable, we didn’t get them, we slipped in the rankings, but we got a game against Westford,” Martucci said.
Martucci said his team is led by goalie Gretchen Howard, who the coach feels is the best goalie around. With Howard guarding the goal, the offense can really push the attack, knowing that they have a goalie that won’t make too many mistakes back there.
Junior McKayla Norris, from Winthrop, was the leading scorer during the regular season, and Martucci said he expects big things from her and of his seniors, Mia Price, Abby Carleton, Kelsie Griffiths, Meghan Chavis and Sydney Adamson in the tournament.
“The way that I feel going into this tournament is that I have probably one of the best, if not the best, goalie in the entire tournament. If she (Gretchen Howard) gets hot than we can go pretty far,” Martucci said. “Gretchen allows us to be a little more free on offense and take a few chances to score some goals.”
Peabody/Lynnfield (9-8-3) is making its first trip to the tournament, but coach Michelle Roach and the team took note of their final game of the season, that they had to win, to qualify.
“We joked about that a little bit, that the game against Melrose (4-0 win) was a playoff-type game,” Roach said. “We enjoyed that win, took Thursday off and started getting ready for the playoffs Friday.”
Roach said that goalie Abby Buckley has been phenomenal all season for Peabody, and she expects big things from the freshman in the tournament.
“I don’t know how she makes some of the saves she does, it’s really incredible,” Roach said.
A few sets of sisters will also be counted on to have big games when the Tanners hit the ice on Wednesday against Arlington at 6 p.m. The winner of the preliminary round game between Peabody and the No. 11 Spy Ponders will play Woburn Saturday.
“Everybody came into Friday’s practice and worked incredibly hard, and we’ll continue to do so until game time,” Roach said. “I’ve got Caroline Buckley, Sarah Buckley, with Sammie Mirasolo and Cassie Mirasolo on the same line. We also are looking for good things from Kaylee Purcell, Elise Murphy and Carolyn Garafoli.”
“We had a tight game against a good club to get into the playoffs, so that’s the way we want to be playing going into the tournament,” Roach said. “Everything goes out the window now at tournament time, everyone has a clean slate and it’s going to come down to hard work and how we approach every game, starting on Wednesday.”