By Matt Williams
---- — A year ago, the Beverly girls hockey team was a bit of an unknown despite a lofty record and high seed in the Division 1 tournament.
Now, the Panthers are among the elites. At 17-2-2, they drew the No. 2 seed in the D1 brackets released on Saturday and they’re feeling as if they have a chance to do some damage in the tournament.
“I think we all feel pretty excited,” senior captain Nicole Woods said. “From the start we set a goal for our team to either go all the way, or go further than we’ve ever been before. Practice has a whole different atmosphere now. It’s the most exciting time of the season.”
The Panthers will begin their quest for the state final at TD Garden next Saturday at Salem State, where they’ll face either St. Mary’s or Hingham. Beverly beat the Spartans, 3-2, in mid-January, but St. Mary’s has plenty of experience as the defending state champs. If St. Mary’s defeats Hingham, Beverly will see a top-flight goaltender in senior Lauren Skinnon of Boxford. Recent Southern Maine commit Tatiana Doucette, who played at Peabody before enrolling at St. Mary’s, is excellent on the blue line.
“Every team in the tournament is pretty good and everyone is pretty even talent-wise,” said Woods, who has a single-season area record 68 points this season and was co-MVP of the Northeastern Hockey League. “I definitely don’t like to look ahead. We have to go at this one game at a time.”
The Panthers enter the postseason unbeaten in their last eight. They’re hoping to have scoring machine Julia Nearis back in the lineup for next week’s playoff opener, reuniting her with Woods and Kristen McCarthy (60 points) to form the state’s top scoring line. Anna O’Neill (13 points) and seniors Nicole Kamens and Rachel Trocchi are playing well on the second line.
“Nearis is such a pure scorer. She adds another dimension, and having her on that first line makes the second line even stronger,” said coach Brian Seabury, whose team advanced to the quarterfinals last year and co-ops with Danvers.
Beverly also boasts one of the state’s highest scoring defensemen, Caitlin McBride (32 points) along with steady blue liners Anna Hayden and Rachel Spencer.
Masconomet was the only other local team to qualify for the girls hockey postseason. The Chieftains (8-8-4) are seeded No. 23 and travel to No. 10 Austin Prep for a preliminary round game tomorrow in Stoneham (5 p.m.). It’ll be a rematch of last year’s state tourney game, won by the Cougars in a shootout after Masco tied it up with the goalie pulled.
That game was a battle of two of the state’s best goalies, Masco’s Alex Jones and AP’s Shannon O’Neil. Both have graduated, but tomorrow’s game could be about the goalies nonetheless.
The Cougars’ Caty Flagg is one of the state’s leaders in shutouts with nine, while Masco’s Molly Kelley enters the postseason having posted back-to-back shutouts. Masco earned seven of a possible eight points in its last four games to qualify for the playoffs and is playing some of its best defensive hockey of the year.
Sparked by the defensive play of Lily Dow and Sydney Sheerin, as well as Kelley in net, Masco has allowed just 18 goals in the 12 games they’ve led or tied this year. They’ve allowed 45 in their eight losses.
For scoring, Masco will rely on Jensena Moner, Kylie Currier and Maddy Werner.
The Chieftains fell to AP, 5-1, on Dec. 30, though that was before Andrew Boepple took over as interim coach. Masco is part of an All-Chieftain playoff doubleheader tomorrow, with the boys hockey team following the girls with their Division 2 North opener against Revere at 7 p.m.