LYNN — Coming into her senior season, Winthrop girls hockey defenseman Abby Stafford wasn’t sure what to expect.
Stafford knew the Vikings carried plenty of underclassmen on their roster and thought it’d take time for Winthrop to find its rhythm. Now that the Vikings have done so, Stafford’s well on her way toward having a senior season worth remembering.
Winthrop, 9-6-1 on the season, has already punched its ticket to the state tournament with two games left in its regular season.
“I knew we’d have a really young team,” Stafford, a team captain who attends Classical, said. “Coming into the season, I was a little nervous. Coach (Anthony) Martucci and the other two captains (Bella Perrotti and Emma Carleton) were really excited and that got me excited. The younger girls are doing a really good job keeping up with the older girls. The underclassmen have played really well so that’s a big plus for us.
“The team’s really gelling together,” Stafford said. “We usually have team dinners before our games. Once the upperclassmen get excited about games, the younger girls get excited. Leadership has played a huge role in the games we’ve played well in.”
Stafford, two-sport athlete who also plays tennis at Classical, joined the co-op Vikings six years ago as a seventh-grader. Since then, she has scored 21 goals and dished 38 assists for 59 career points. She was named a team captain during the offseason.
“It was definitely an honor,” Stafford said. “I really started playing during my eighth grade year. I’ve always been really dedicated to the team. I feel being named captain was a really big honor for the season.”
Winthrop coach Anthony Martucci had no reservations in giving Stafford captaincy. Given her skill set on the ice and her ability to communicate with teammates, Stafford was a perfect fit for the role.
“Abby’s overall performance on the ice is always at such a high level,” Martucci said. “That, combined with being able to bring leadership to the team, it’s just an easy thing for her to do. When you have that kind of skill set people seem to gravitate to you as a leader. What I like about her is when she delivers a message, she does things in an educational way. She’s not a dictator, she explains things and lets her teammates understand on their own.
“Abby brings an incredible skill set and a ton of speed,” Martucci added. “She’s a very energetic kid and brings a ton of energy to our team. She tries to lead by example but at the same time she says what needs to be said. I’ve coached her since the sixth grade and to see her grow from a little, skinny kid to a great leader, has been awesome. It’s been a pleasure to coach her.”
Stafford’s future plans are official. She’ll remain a Viking by attending nearby Salem State to play college hockey and plans to study exercise science.
“They have really good science programs and I have the opportunity to play hockey there,” Stafford said. “That was really exciting. I like being close to home. I’m kind of a homebody and Lynn’s only 15 minutes away (from Salem).”
Martucci has nothing but confidence in Stafford and feels she’ll excel at the collegiate level.
“I’ve seen a lot of Salem State’s games,” Martucci said. “One of our former captains, Catherine Salvetti, is the captain of their team. I think Abby will fit in very nicely with them. She skates so well and that will help her transition from high school to the college level.”
But before Stafford can wrap her head around making a name for herself at Salem State, she has her senior season to focus on. Winthrop’s currently in a bit of a rut with three losses and a tie in its past four games. The Vikings are hoping to make the most of their final two games and they’d like to carry momentum into the tournament.
“It’s definitely important,” Stafford said of ending the season on a high note. “We have to at least win our next two games to get a good seed in the tournament. It’s really important that we get these next two wins. I’m hoping that we do. Last year we we won our first round game at home and that was an incredible feeling.”
Stafford and the Vikings visit Masconomet Wednesday night (8:15).