PEABODY — Their squad goals were attainable, if not a little bit ambitious: Leave no doubt that they were the best girls hockey team to ever skate for Peabody High.
The Tanners already had the most wins and the first league title in program history, so the only box left to check was finally tasting victory in the state tournament.
Wednesday afternoon, powered by two goals from senior Kat DiGiulio and a 25-save shutout from senior Abby Buckley, Peabody made it mission accomplished by blanking Winthrop, 2-0, at McVann-O'Keefe Rink.
"It feels amazing to be a part of, now officially, the best Peabody squad ever. I'm so proud to be one of the captains for this great group of girls," said DiGiulio, who scored around the 13:00 mark of the first and second periods to send her team to the Division 1 Round of 16.
Peabody (16-4-2) will face nemesis St. Mary's Lynn (17-2-2), the team that beat them in last year's playoffs and twice this season, at Connery Rink on Saturday (time TBA).
Visiting Winthrop (10-7-2) put its fair share of pressure on Peabody in the third period, but Buckley stood tall to earn her ninth career shutout — and first in the postseason. No save was better than the one she made on a shorthanded breakaway with 10 minutes left in the third, sliding her left leg back across the grain of the crease to keep the puck out.
"Her leg came in out of no where and it's like how did that happen? That was an Abby Buckley performance," said Peabody coach Michelle Roach. "She's incredible, she's consistent and she's our backbone. She made big saves at crucial times."
After seeing only five shots in the first, Winthrop tested Buckley with 20 blasts over the last two frames. The full-split stop on the breakaway rush put the exclamation point on her outstanding third period and brought the good-sized crowd to its feet.
"I saw all the fans cheering and I didn't know if it went in. I could feel it on my pad, but I couldn't tell if they were going crazy for the save or for a goal," Buckley said.
"The win feels amazing, especially being senior year. We didn't want this to be the last time we played hockey together."
The Tanners controlled the first period with a 13-5 edge in shots but almost went to the locker room tied. Captain Jess Robert made sure that didn't happen with a ferocious forecheck. She dug the puck out from behind the Winthrop net, allowing DiGiulio to swoop in, wheel to the front and score for a 1-0 lead.
"Momentum can be a funny thing in girls hockey. It can change fast so we definitely wanted to set that tone with that first goal," Roach said.
The Vikings picked up the pace in the second with strong rushes and scoring bids by Emma Carleton and Emma Holmes. Buckley controlled her rebounds effectively, never letting the puck free even with copious contact in the area of the crease.
Peabody then doubled its lead when DiGiulio pounced on a loose puck at center ice. The captain broke in for a 2-on-1 chance with Jen Flynn and elected to shoot, beating goalie Summer Tallent (who was strong with 26 saves) in the late stages of the second.
"I could feel the pressure on my stick and I thought 'This is going right over the net, I'm going to miss.' But Jen took the body, opened a lane for me and I knew I had to take the shot," DiGiulio said.
One of two Peabody girls on the team, which co-ops with Lynnfield and North Reading, DiGiulio has been a varsity skater since eighth grade. Her big role in the team's first ever playoff win seemed appropriate.
"It's so special. Kat has seen where we've come from. She's survived four years with me and still comes back every day," Roach quipped. "It was one of the Kat's strongest games, ever. She was finding lanes, picking off pucks and she made sure she was in the right spot all night."
Freshman Maria Pierce drew two penalties for the Tanners and winger Sammie Mirasolo flew around all three zones, creating energy and scoring chances. Defenseman Catherine Sweeney, Carolyn Garofoli, Sadie Gearan and Reilly Ganter played the kind of solid, responsible hockey Roach has preached all season long.
Though Peabody couldn't extend its lead on four power play chances, the Tanners did kill off two Winthrop advantages. The hosts focused on getting the puck deep in the last half of the third and were largely successful.
"Things got a little hot in those last few minutes but we played smart, good hockey. We needed to against a well coached team like Winthrop," said Roach, whose squad finishes a remarkable 10-1-1 this winter at McVann-O'Keefe Rink.
"It's special for all of our kids. They work so hard and they set so many goals at the beginning of the season, and they're meeting them. They're checking off a lot of boxes."
Peabody 2, Winthrop 0
Division 1 state tournament
at McVann-O'Keefe Rink, Peabody
Winthrop 0 0 0 0
Peabody 1 1 0 2
First period: P, Kat DiGiulio (Jess Robert), 13:58.
Second period: P, DiGiulio (un), 13:21.
Third period: No scoring.
Saves: W, Summer Tallent 26; P, Abby Buckley 25.
Records: W, 10-7-2; P, 16-4-2.