---- — You never know how long it’ll take a team to adapt to a new head coach, but its safe to say the Beverly girls hockey team has hit the ground running this season.
The Panthers (7-0) are off to the best start in the eight-year history of the program in coach Brian Seabury’s first season after last night’s win over Cambridge.
Beverly is doing it at both ends of the ice, with 43 goals for and just seven goals against in 2012-13. It’s a competitive bunch that’s learning to harness their will to win, night in and night out.
“Coach is pushing us to work hard and be flexible,” said senior Livvy Konaxis, who shares the captain’s ‘C’ with classmate Katie Szela. “The competitive nature of all the girls has been huge. We all play to win.”
Beverly is getting exactly what it expected out of its top forwards. Konaxis (18 points) and junior Nicole Woods (20 points) have skated together for three years and are now the most dangerous offensive pair in the area.
It’s the contributions from some new faces that have helped the Panthers go from good to potentially great.
Look no further than in goal, where senior Ami Thompson is excelling in her first campaign as a full-time starter. She’s perfect on the year with a goals against of 1.00 and a stellar save percentage of .938. She’s allowed more than two goals in a game just once and has two shutouts.
“She’s been terrific, and in every game she’s been pretty solid from start to finish,” said Seabury. “We’re expecting the same throughout the season.”
Thompson came to Beverly in the middle of last season and played sparingly behind all-star Jenna LoVasco. Her teammates knew coming in that she’d be ready to carry the load in 2012-13.
“We had confidence in her ... and she’s been even better,” said Konaxis. “Ami’s stepped it up in a big way. She’s been great.”
Beverly, which is a co-operative program with Danvers, has benefited from an influx of talented freshmen. The second defensive pairing of Anna Hayden and Rachel Spencer are both ninth graders and have played particularly well.
Their play allowed the staff to skate experienced, dangerous puck-mover Caitlin McBride (better than a point per game with 10) with captain Szela to make arguably the league’s top defensive pair.
“They’ve been very strong and that gives the forwards the security we need to play competitively down low,” said Konaxis, whose own line has picked up freshman Anna O’Neill on the wing. She’s been an outstanding compliment to Woods and her center, with four goals and five assists.
“Our freshmen have been terrific,” said Seabury. “For the most part, defensively, we’ve been playing well. It’s a good group.”
Don’t overlook balance, either. Beverly’s second line — Nicole Kamens centering Rachel Trocchi and Kristen McCarthy — have contributed (14) goals on the season. They’re reliable in all three zones and they’re pushing a first line that’s scored (22) goals.
“Everybody’s pushing everybody to work right now, and when you see that effort coming from the younger kids it pushed you to work harder, too,” said Konaxis, the third of her sisters to captain the Panthers. “It’s been an easy group to lead because everyone is easygoing (yet) competitive.”
At 7-0, a fifth straight state tournament appearance should be in the cards for Beverly. This is the longest winning streak in program history, though the longest unbeaten streak was a 12-gamer in 2010 (9-0-3), which was also the last time Beverly won a league title and a postseason game. Konaxis and Szela skated regular shifts that season and are hoping to duplicate that success.
“We’re hoping to get to that point,” said Konaxis. “We just need to make sure we play our best every night no matter who its against. The name on the other shirt doesn’t matter, we need to play hard.”
“It’s our compete level, day in and day out,” Seabury echoed. “We’re trying to raise the level of our program, and if we don’t move our feet and play with intensity we’ll be average. We don’t want to be average.”
Saturday night’s game between Masconomet (4-2) and Beverly (7-0) at the Talbot Rink in Gloucester (6 p.m.) will be for first place in the GEIMHL’s Northeast Division, which includes those two teams plus Winthrop and Marblehead. Both teams are undefeated against divisional foes.
The Chieftains, unsurprisingly, have been getting great play from all-star goalie Alex Jones.
“She’s been taking some point blank shots from right in the slot and she’s holding the fort down,” said Masco coach Nicole Twomey. “She never gets rattled.”
Marblehead is participating in a doubleheader with the boys hockey team at Larsen Rink in Winthrop this Saturday. The Lady Headers will face the Winthrop/Lynn English co-op team at 5 p.m. followed by the Header boys against the Vikings at 7 p.m. The double-dip will also benefit breast cancer awareness, and Marblehead plans to have pink skate laces, hockey tape, etc.
“We’re hoping for a lot of support. I was talking to Dale Dunbar (Winthrop’s boys coach) and there’s a family in Winthrop going through it so they were looking for an event, and Marblehead and Winthrop have always had that special connection. They did the Winter Classic (at Fenway Park) a few years ago,” said Marblehead coach Emily Hudak.
Kick Saves, a column on North Shore girls hockey, appears every other Thursday during the winter season. Contact assistant sports editor Matt Williams at MWilliams@salemnews.com, 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.
AREA SCORING LEADERS Player, School Points (Goals-Assists) 1. Nicole Woods, Bev. 20 (10-10) 2. Livvy Konaxis, Bev. 18 (8-10) 3. Brittany Smith, Marb. 15 (10-5) 4. Brittany Lydon, Marb. 14 (9-5) 5. Jillian Witwicki, Ping. 13 (7-6) 5. Rachel McKay, Marb. 13 (4-9) 7. Courtney Smith, Peab. 12 (6-6) 8. Kendra Dow, Masco. 10 (5-5) 8. Caitlin McBride, Bev. 10 (2-8) GOALTENDING LEADERS Player, School W-L-T GAA SV% SH 1. Ami Thompson, Bev. 7-0-0 1.00 .938 2 2. Alex Jones, Masco. 4-2-0 1.33 .940 2 3. Ally Heffron, Ping. 4-4-0 3.00 .877 3