By Jean DePlacido
---- — St. Mary’s girls’ hockey coach Frank Pagliuca counts on senior captain Alison Butler of Danvers to lead the Lady Spartans both on and off the ice. The center, who has committed to St. Anselm College, has been a valuable member of the varsity for four years. She is also one of the most productive scorers in Division 1 with 36 goals and 25 assists for 61 points. On Sunday morning St. Mary’s will be looking for its first state championship since 2010. Last year the team went to the state finals before losing to their arch rival Arlington Catholic. During the regular season the two teams split with St. Mary’s winning 4-1 and Arlington Catholic pulling out a 2-1. The rubber match will be for the state title. “Whenever we play AC the games are always tight,” said Butler. “This will be the 10th time I’ve faced them in my four years. We know them, and they know us. There won’t be any surprises.”Our team is very close this year. Once the tournament started we realized how much we all wanted to win the state tournament. We know we have to play together as a team in order to do that.”
To reach the Division I finals the Lady Spartans defeated Newton North (5-1), Austin Prep (3-0), and Woburn (4-3) in the semi final round. Butler scored a big goal against the Tanners, and Pagliuca has nothing but praise for his hard working captain.
“Alison is one of the top players in the state,” said Pagliuca, whose team is 19-3-4. “She was an All-Scholastic last year, and her hockey IQ is just off the charts. She is a gifted player with tremendous skills, but above all her ability to break down plays is second to none.
“Alison sees the ice and anticipates things before they happen. In addition she is a very good skater, has a great shot, is an accurate passer, and also a tremendous defensive leader. But the best thing is that as outstanding as (Butler) is on the ice she is an even better kid off the ice. She really represents the school well, and I am so glad she has this opportunity to play for a state championship.” Pagliuca believes the team is peaking at the right time with everybody working together. The girls would like nothing better than to avenge last year’s loss to AC. “This group of girls has come a long way,” said Pagliuca. “A lot of players had to step into expanded roles, and while we did struggle a bit in the first half we have been played extremely well the second half of the season. “We play all the best teams in the state which really helps us in the tournament. We are used to the speed of the game and not overwhelmed by anything.”
Butler is excited about playing at St. Anselm next season, but she has one last goal before she graduates. “Winning the state championship would be such a great end to my high school hockey career,” she said. “I always dreamed about having the chance to play my final game at the Garden. Winning it would be just perfect.”