By Matt Williams
---- — When you score as many goals as the Beverly girls co-operative hockey team has this winter — 103, tops in Division 1 to be exact — it’s easy to overlook defense and goaltending.
Make no mistake, though: the Panthers can defend the cage, too.
Senior goalie Ami Thompson has been both dependable and excellent for Beverly (17-2-2) during this record-setting season, and she’ll need to be both again tonight when the Panthers face defending state champion Arlington Catholic in the Division 1 quarterfinals at O’Brien Rink in Woburn (8 p.m.).
The only goalie on Beverly’s roster, Thompson has played every minute of every game this season. She has a stellar 1.19 goals-against average to go with a .921 save percentage and five shutouts. In 21 starts, she’s allowed more than two goals just three times.
Thompson moved to Beverly from Manchester, N.H., during her sophomore year. She’d learned the goaltending craft playing for a boys team in the Queen City, and based on this year’s results, the Panthers are fortunate she came to the North Shore.
”I was probably 15 when I started. My dad was coaching and they needed a goalie — and I’d always wanted to play,” Thompson said. “In the beginning it was 1-on-1 drills and stuff around the crease, then having older, more experienced guys shooting on you makes you pretty confident.”
In terms of toughness, Thompson has a unique experience: She played boys varsity football for two years when she was living in Manchester.
”Coming out of eighth grade it drew my attention and it was really fun. They never treated me like a girl,” Thompson said. “There’s not a lot about hockey that’s like football. Football is definitely a more aggressive sport — and I think it made me a more aggressive competitor.”
After backing up Jenna LoVasco the last two years, Thompson was ready to shine this winter. She won both her starts last year and followed that up by setting a program record for single-season victories (17 and counting).
”Overall it’s been awesome,” Thompson, who also plays soccer and lacrosse at Beverly High, she said of taking over as the starter in goal. “It’s exciting and, at first, also nerve-wracking.”
Arlington Catholic (15-4-2) has scored 64 goals this season and allowed just 30, so tonight’s tournament game could be a tight, low-scoring affair. The Cougars come from the Catholic Central League, which had three teams in the Division 1 quarters, and will be battle-tested.
The Panthers and AC had no common opponents in the regular season, though the Cougars beat Cambridge 6-1 in the opening round of the tournament. Beverly took care of Cambridge twice this season, 3-1 and 5-0.
”We look at it as a challenge,” said Thompson. “Getting the first goal is going to be big for us.”
The defensive rotation of Caitlin McBride, captain Katie Szela, Anna Hayden and Rachel Spencer have protected Beverly’s net by allowing just 315 shots on goal, an average of 14 per game. Thompson has made the timely saves, though, and there have been flurries in many games where she’s come up big. Look no further than a 9-save second period against Medford last Saturday.
”When we’ve needed Ami, she’s been there. She’s been a good goalie for us,” said Beverly coach Brian Seabury. “That’s what we expect and she’s been up to it.”
AC junior goalie Megan Messuri is 6-0 in the postseason, but the Panthers hope she’ll be tested by their top two lines. Leading scorer Nicole Woods has a BHS record 46 points (26 goals, 20 assists) and captain Livvy Konaxis isn’t far behind with 45. Freshman Anna O’Neill rounds out that line and the second unit of Kristen McCarthy, Rachel Trocchi and Nicole Kamens scored the first three goals in the playoff win over Medford.
Looking to make their first appearance in a state final four, the Panthers will have to be at their best tonight in Woburn. They’re excited about the atmosphere and the opportunity ahead.
”The big crowds (in the tournament) make us play better. We want to show people that we can play,” said Thompson. “We feel like if we play our game and get our game going we’ll be OK.”