---- — The Pingree girls hockey team has come a long way since its season opener nearly four months ago.
Saturday, the Highlanders will find out exactly how much they’ve improved.
Pingree is headed to the Eastern Independent League finals for the third consecutive season, and they’ll match up against Berwick Academy for all the marbles at Dexter. The previous two years, Berwick has beaten Pingree in overtime for the title.
The Highlanders (12-11 overall) punched their ticket by beating Portsmouth Abbey in the semifinals, 4-0, yesterday. They’ve won seven of their last eight games and are certainly playing their best hockey at the end of the year.
“It’s an unbelievable accomplishment,” said Pingree coach :Sarah Carpenter:. “We had a bumpy road, losing our first two games and most of our non-league games, but the girls have proven that they want to get better. They love the game, they’re a coachable group. A lot of times we’re only playing nine girls and a goalie and they’re giving us everything they have.”
Berwick beat Pingree 7-0 in the season opener and has only allowed four goals against EIL teams all season. Two of them were scored by Pingree, however, in a tight 5-2 game that included an empty-net goal. Pingree is hoping to build on that for this weekend’s neutral-site championship game.
Just a week ago, the Highlanders were in Montreal enjoying a win over West Island, Canada. The team bonded during the trip and checked out tourist attractions like the BioDome and the Notre-Dame Basilica. They also skated outdoors, which helped them work on their creativity.
“We’ve been telling the girls not to be linear, not to worry about going to spot X, Y or Z on the ice, but to think creatively and find open space,” said Carpenter. “Playing outdoors, and playing on some of the ponds, really teaches them that.”
Junior :Jillian Witwicki:, of Danvers, has been Pingree’s biggest threat offensively and leads the EIL in scoring with 37 points. She skates with :Kristina Caradonna: (12 goals, 22 points) and senior :Madeline Polese:, of Lynnfield. Pingree’s second unit of :Katie Shreenan (five goals, 18 points):, :Leah Heinze :(8 goals, 22 points) and senior :Michaela Bryne: of Hamilton.
Captain :Mac Foster: of Peabody leads the defense, a rotation of three players that eats up big time minutes. Senior :Adrineh Nalbandian: and freshman :Nicole Khachadorian :are the others.
“The great thing about Mac is she’s taken control. She’s taking slap shot, rushing the puck up the ice and she’s really setting a good example,” said Carpenter.
Foster actually earned the shutout in Monday’s 10-0 win over Beaver Country Day. Senior goalie :Aly Heffron: always wanted to play a game at forward, so the co-captains switched places for one game. Heffron scored a goal in the third period in a tremendously fun outing for Pingree.
“Mac and Aly were great sports about it,” Carpenter said. “They swapped everything because they have the same size feet (for skates). Aly had a bit of a hard time with the offsides, but we were thrilled to get her a goal.”
In her natural position between the pipes, Heffron has enjoyed a solid season with five shutouts of her own and 11 wins.
“Aly’s a two-year captain and she came in and helped us turn the program around when she was a freshman and we needed a goalie,” Carpenter said. “We’ve really gone from the basement to where we are because of her. She’s pretty confident and she’s our calm captain.”
Beverly (16-1-2) faces Westford Academy (14-3-2) in the championship of the Cougar Classic in Rockland today in a match-up of two of the top three teams by winning percentage in all of Division 1.
The Panthers are looking to bounce back after yesterday’s 4-1 loss to Chelmsford snapped their school and area record 18-game unbeaten streak to start the season.
“We just didn’t have the jump. We’ll throw it out the window and we’ll be back,” said Beverly coach :Brian Seabury:. “We were a little sloppy so we’ll get back to basics.”
Senior :Livvy Konaxis: recently became the program’s all-time leading scorer, hiking her career total to 114 to pass older sister Rachel, who had 110 in just three seasons. Livvy’s 43 points this season are a Beverly single-season record.
Regardless of what happens today, Beverly looks like it will earn the No. 2 seed in the Division 1 girls state tourmnament, which should be worth at least two homes game should they advance.
“In hindsight, (the Chelmsford loss) might not be so bad. We got it out of the way. It is hard to run the table,” said Seabury.
If you thought you hit the jackpot after Peabody’s 8-6 loss to Everett last week, it was probably because eight of the 14 goals in the game were scored by players wearing No. 7. Peabody’s No. 7, Sophia Post, scored four goals and had an assist, and Everett’s Gabrielle Ramuno added four of her own.
The Tanners, who finisehd the season 5-13, trailed the Crimson Tide 4-0 before making a run and nearly stealing the game. :Kaydee Purcell:, :Ciara DiSalvo: and :Waverly Cohen :had excellent seasons for improving Peabody.
Post’s 19 goals rank second on Peabody’s all-time single season list and :Courtney Smith: had 17 goals of her own. The duo tied for the team lead with 27 points each.
Congratulations to Masconomet goalie :Alex Jones:, who was named GEMIHL NEC/CAL Division MVP. Jones had six of her 21 shutouts this season and had arguably her best game in a 37-save, 1-1 tie against Beverly.
The GEMIHL’s All-League team, which includes both the NEC/CAL and Metro Divisions, honored Jones, Beverly’s :Livvy Konaxis: and Marblehead’s :Brittany Smith:. Medford’s :Brittani Lanzilli, :Winthrop’s :Kara Donati: and Cambridge’s :Nicole Giampa:.
Beverly’s all-stars were goaltender :Ami Thompson:, forwards :Nicole Woods: and Konaxis and defensemen :Caitlin McBride: and :Katie Szela.
The all-star game will be played on Feb. 24 at Chelmsford.
Kick Saves, a column on North Shore girls hockey, appears in The Salem News every other Thursday during the winter season. Contact assistant sports editor Matt Williams at 978-338-2669, MWilliams@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.