By Matt Williams
---- — The Beverly and Masconomet girls ice hockey teams both set program records for regular season wins and earned seeds near the top of the Division 1 state tournament bracket, released by the MIAA on Saturday.
Still, both local entries are heading to postseason feeling like they have something to prove.
The Panthers (16-2-2) are seeded No. 2 in the 26-team Division 1 field, with the Masconomet Chieftains (14-4-2) coming in at No. 5. Both clubs earned preliminary round byes and will take the ice against opponents to be determined next weekend.
Yet both the lack of postseason success of their league, the GEMIHL, and their relative strength of schedule have Beverly and Masconomet a bit overlooked heading into the tournament.
”Even though we have a high seed, we could really be the underdogs,” said Masco coach Nicole Twomey, whose team will host Hingham or Austin Prep at either Governor’s Academy in Byfield or Gloucester’s Talbot Rink next weekend.
”We know people know about schedules and ratings, and there are those whispers and doubters out there. That’s what your want. It’s just more motivation.”
Beverly, which will host either Medway or Medford next weekend, began the season 16-0-2 before dropping its last two games of the season. The regular season finale against third-seeded and well-regarded Westford Academy gives the Panthers confidence heading into the playoffs, however; the Grey Ghosts scored a 5-on-3 goal with four minutes left in the third to break a 1-1 tie and added an empty netter. Beverly had close to 30 shots on net and proved that they can play with a top team.
”Win, lose or draw we’re better for having faced them,” said Beverly head coach Brian Seabury. “I was interested to see how we’d react after our first loss and we played great. We came back strong and had great competitive spirit.”
Led by a dynamic scoring combination in senior Livvy Konaxis (16 goals, 43 points) and Nicole Woods (23 goals, 41 points), Beverly has an outstanding goal differential. They have five players with over 20 points, including defenseman Caitlin McBride (21 assists, 26 points) plus Anna O’Neill (12 goals, 24 points) and Kristen McCarthy (14 goals, 23 points).
Senior goalie Ami Thompson has five shutouts and only allowed more than one goal four times all season. League all-star and captain Katie Szela leads the defense for Beverly, which is making its fifth consecutive playoff appearance.
”Everybody’s back to 0-0 and we’re going to play the best we can and stick with the system,” said Seabury. “We know we’re solid and are looking forward to the opportunity to make our mark.”
For Masconomet, it starts in net with GEMIHL MVP Alex Jones. The senior, who has an outstanding .939 save percentage and six shutouts, made 54 saves in a state tournament loss to Hingham a year ago and would love to get another shot at the Harborwomen. Austin Prep, led by goalie Shannon O’Neil, beat Hingham earlier this season and could certainly set up a goaltender’s duel with an upset.
The Chieftains are a deep team that rolls three and four lines, so their scoring is spread out. Captain Kendra Dow leads the way with 15 goals and 26 points and Katie Terban has 25. Kylie Currier, Olivia Mombello, Dana Valletti and Jensena Moner are all in double-digits for points, and 15 different skaters have at least one goal this year.
Its the first time Masco has qualified for the state tournament in consecutive seasons, and grabbing their first postseason win since 2009 would be another welcome step in the team’s development.
”We’re taking steps forward every year and this year in no exception. We fought hard for the seed we got,” said Twomey. “We may not have the superstars, but we have depth. They’re natural athletes that compete, and you can’t teach that. We’ll have all 24 girls re-energized and ready to go.”
Neither team is looking for sympathy regarding their reputation, ranking or bracket predictions. They know reputations are earned, and both Beverly and Masco are 1-4 all-time in the postseason.
They’re also keen to motivation and to the fact that games are won on the ice, not in computer formulas.
”Maybe we do have a little chip (on their shoulders) and that’s a good thing,” said Seabury. “I think anyone that’s come to watch us play, at the end of the day, has respect for us.”
There’s also something to be said about the relative strength of the bracket. A total of 17 teams enter the Division 1 field with winning percentages of .600 or better, and the bracket represents the entire state, not just teams north of Boston.
”I think anything can happen,” said Twomey. “At this point, every team left is pretty good. Whoever comes ready to play and who wants it more is probably going to come out on top.”
GEMHIL ALL-STARS Beverly: Livvy Konaxis*, Nicole Woods, Caitlin McBride, Katie Szela, Ami Thompson Marblehead: Brittany Smith*, Brittany Lydon, Rachel McKay Masconomet: Alex Jones*, Kendra Dow Peabody: Courtney Smith Northeast Division MVP: Alex Jones, Masconomet Northeast Division Coach of the Year: Brian Seabury, Beverly Metro Divison Coach of the Year: Larry Minehan, Peabody *All-Conference selection