SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 24, 2013

Kick Saves: Masconomet girls unite six schools with passionate, disciplined play

Kick Saves
Matt Williams

---- — The Masconomet ngirls hockey team has skaters from six schools sharing the same locker room. So it wouldn’t have been out of the question to think it would take some time for them to gel and develop chemistry.

The Chieftains (7-3) haven’t experienced many growing pains, however. Winners of three straight, they’re playing good hockey — and they’re doing so together.

The team is made up of girls from Masconomet, Hamilton-Wenham, Georgetown, Triton, Newburyport and North Andover. It’s a big program, with 25 girls, and it hasn’t taken much time for them to become one big Red-and-White family.

“It’s come together maybe quicker than I expected,” said senior goalie Alex Jones, a captain and a five-year starter. “It’s been a really good thing for us because we’ve clicked right away. We played a lot together in the summer and the fall, and I think that helped a lot.”

Masco has two shutouts in their recent three-game win streak, so its easy to see that they’re built from the net out. Jones, with 37 career wins, 15 career shutouts and over 2,300 career saves, is the anchor but she’s had plenty of help from defensemen like Nancy Palermo, Lily Dow, Alex Casale and Meghan Hubbard.

With a first-year head coach in Nicole Twomey, a teacher in Newburyport who was an assistant coach last year, there’s been a renewed focus on discipline and protecting both the puck and the net. The results have shown as Masco has allowed just 11 goals in 10 games.

“We have a lot of young players and the older, veteran players have them buying in that the defense comes first. The offense will come,” said Twomey.

Playmaker Kylie Currier is Masco’s leading scorer with 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists). The leading goal scorer is captain Kendra Dow with seven tallies (to go with 5 assists) while Jensena Moner has five goals and Dana Valletti and Katie Terban have four each.

“We’re keeping our own goal protected. If we do that, we can tie a game but we can’t lose. Once we’re perfect in one zone, we’ll start incorporating the others,” said Jones. “I’m seeing less shots this year, so I’m adjusting my focus and making sure I’m ready when the big shots come.”

The numbers may not jump off the page, but that’s partially because Masconomet skates three and sometimes four lines, so the shifts, shots and offense are spread out. The deep Chieftains have 13 players with at least one goal and seven with two or more.

“At the start of the season I was rolling two lines, but this team’s had stronger practices and we’ve found that we keep getting stronger as a whole,” Twomey said. “Our third and fourth lines have really come around, and our confidence in them has been a key to our success.”

The sense of competition for spots in the lineup (and ice time) has driven all of Masco’s skaters to be better. It’s also made for competitive, useful practices.

“There’s a balance. It’s about finding that line between being competitive and still being one team, and this team has been able to understand that,” said Twomey.

As a group, Masco had a tough time swallowing back-to-back losses to Medford and unbeaten Beverly earlier this month. That led to a renewed sense of purpose that immediately manifested itself in a 3-0 win over Winthrop/Lynn.

“The losses were a turning point for us. It lit a fire, so to speak,” said Twomey.

The Chieftains followed up the win over Winthrop by blanking Everett (4-0) then taking care of Cambridge (3-1). They’ve done so despite some injuries and illness, and they’re hoping to keep the winning streak going Saturday when they face Peabody.

“We’ve faced some adversity and we’ve battled back. We’re hitting our groove,” said Twomey. “But nothing has been won yet. We haven’t qualified for the playoffs and haven’t beaten some of the big dogs, so there are definitely things we’re striving for.”

Masconomet has a chance to avenge that loss to Medford next Wednesday, then faces Marblehead, Beverly and Winthrop in February in games that’ll go a long way to deciding the GEIMHL’s Northeast Division champ.

The depth the team has at forward will help them continue to improve in practice and survive some of that adversity that strikes all teams.

“That competitive fight is a big thing for every athlete at every level, and that kind of spirit is going to help us reach that next level,” Twomey said.

The mentality of their first-year coach has been a big boost as well.

“It’s really different. Coach can be strict, but she knows when to have fun. We’re a lot more focused on the ice,” said Jones, who is hoping to play goalie in college. “A lot of the young girls played together before, and that’s helped. They know what they’re doing, and we’ve had really good leaders on every line.”

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Marblehead (6-4-1) is unbeaten in its last four heading into today’s game against Gardner at Salem State (5:30 p.m.). Freshman center Brittany Lydon has enjoyed a coming out party with seven goals, eight assists and 15 points in the last four contests. That’s half of her area-leading 30 points coming in the last 12 days.

Captains Brittany Smith (8 goals and 12 points during the streak) and Rachel McKay (6 goals, 6 assists, 12 points) have also been outstanding for the Lady Headers of late.

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Hard-working Peabody tied its program record for wins with yesterday’s 4-0 decision over Bishop Fenwick. The Tanners earned 10 points back in 2007-08 with a 4-14-2 season, and this year’s team would certainly love to match or break that record.

Courtney Smith is the Tanners’ leading goal scorer (10) and point-getter (15). Sophia Post has eight goals and 11 points while Waverly Cohen and Ciara DiSalvo are tied for the team lead in assists with six. Laura Miele has also been finding the net with five goals.

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Beverly (11-0) is off until next Wednesday’s game with Everett, but is approaching a few team milestones. With a win, the Panthers would match the longest unbeaten streak in program history and, since they’d be 12-0, would really surpass it since that streak was a 9-0-3 mark three years ago. Senior center Livvy Konaxis is also just three points shy of 100, so with a big offensive night she could become just the second Panther girl to join the Century Club.

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Kick Saves, a column on North Shore girls hockey, appears every other Thursday during the winter season in The Salem News. Contact assistant sports editor Matt Williams at 978-338-2669, MWilliams@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.