ARLINGTON — As sure as a 3-year-old could be, Hannah Wright was convinced: She was going to be an ice hockey player. Forever. Or as long as life’s circumstances would allow her to be.
Wright is the exception to the rule; the fully committed, all-star-level talent who chose to stay in a public school system and play with her friends at Arlington High, many of whom keep a pair of skates simply for the few months each year that high school hockey is in season.
“Every public school team has a stud or two,” said Arlington High coach Jeff Mead . “You see them out there. But for the most part the talent is coming from the prep schools, because the players go in with the mind-set that their goal is to play college hockey.
“It’s slim pickings when it comes to the public schools.”
Wright is Arlington’s “stud.”
A 5-foot-7 blue-line-hugging defenseman who has recently honed her ability to take it to the net, she plays hockey almost nine months of the year.
And in girls’ hockey in Eastern Massachusetts, one “stud” can be all the difference.
“I think that’s true for a lot of schools,” said longtime Acton-Boxborough Regional coach Brian Fontas . “Hockey is such a demanding sport if you play it all year. It takes a lot out of you. Not many can do that.”
More so since St. Mary’s of Lynn stepped off its Everest-sized throne and lowered the reach necessary to sit on it, the race for the girls’ hockey trophy has been wide open.
Arlington Catholic showed that last year, led by first-year coach Maggie Taverna and powered by scoring whiz Natalie Flynn in making a late-season surge for the Division 1 state title.
Acton-Boxborough, which had just one loss all year, fell to Braintree in a wild overtime quarter-final postseason game. Arlington Catholic took care of Lexington and Woburn, two of the most dynamic scoring offenses in the state.
Anything seems possible now. And it all starts with a player to build around.
Wright “is our No. 1 player,” said Arlington High senior Kaitlyn Morse . “She knows the right thing to do at all times.”
Born into a hockey family — one of her cousins is former Boston College player Tommy Cross , who was drafted by the Boston Bruins and is playing for the organization’s American Hockey League affiliate in Providence — Wright has been honing her on-ice skills for 15 years. The extended family rents a rink in a small New York town every Dec. 26 to play five-on-five.
And that’s just the start of her puck obsession.
She plays in multiple leagues year-round, most through the Boston Junior Shamrocks, competing in tournaments as often as possible. She spent five weekends over the summer at college showcases before committing to Castleton State College in Vermont this fall.
And Arlington High is going to need her.
“There’s some pressure, I suppose,” Wright said. “Usually I’m a stay-at-home defenseman, but I’ve had to step it up offensively this year.”
With the graduation last spring of All-Scholastic goalie Casey Schaejbe — now at University of Massachusetts Boston, where she has split time with Franklin’s Kailyn Burke this season — the Spy Ponders are switching gears from a defensive team that scored one goal or less 10 times last year to an explosive squad that put up 11 goals in a 3-0 start.
Wright is also being asked to anchor the defense in front of junior goalie Katie Gilligan , who has been a pleasant surprise while following in Schaejbe’s footsteps.
Senior linemates Katie Cummings , Carolyn Woodin, and Eva Colarusso have been finding the net thanks to relentless forechecking and a grind-it-out attitude that Mead hopes his other talented forwards, Morse and Shannon Hickey , will soon adopt.
Late last year, opposing coaches were wary of playing Arlington, a team capable of poaching a 1-0 victory if Schaejbe stood on her head.
Now it’s on Wright. And an offense that finally woke up.
“For some reason, they’re getting some luck, scoring goals, and feeling good about themselves,” Mead said. “It’s what I wanted last year.
“We still have some improvements to make, but we could be a dangerous team.”
Other storylines worth watching
Does Lexington have the best first line in the state? “I don't know, I haven't seen everyone,” said coach Amanda Ciarletta , though she was quick to use the word “lucky” when describing her team’s good fortune. Carolyn Avery , Jackie Denning, and Sara Lehman are finally seniors, and, having played together since elementary school, form a potent scoring machine. The Minutemen posted 19 goals in their first two games this season.
Cali Loblundo still has four more years. It might be odd to think the Acton-Boxborough Regional goalie only now is entering high school after leading the Colonials to the TD Garden in 2011 and an 18-2-2 record last season. Loblundo has been the starter in net since she was 12 years old, though coach Brian Fonta assures she’s grown since then. “Tremendously,” he said. “That's a big gap. It's only two years, but it's the maturity.” Acton-Boxborough did not need a waiver to use middle school players this year, though there are two eighth-graders, Alex Macride and Lisa Kidd , who were grandfathered onto the roster due to the waiver acquired last season.
How often will Wellesley High coach George Campbell have to ask Molly Connolly to stop scoring? If her start this season is any indication, the answer is often. Connolly posted five goals in each of the Raiders’ first two wins this season, and, in both games, she had scored four in the first period. “Then we throttle her down,” Campbell said. In a game against Framingham last year, Connolly's goal tally had reached seven before the coaches pulled back the reins. It was the second period.
The safe money is on Messuri. One of them, anyway. The hockey family is well represented on area teams again this year, as junior Annie Messuri leads the stubborn Acton-Boxborough defensive unit and junior cousin Megan Messuri returns in net for Arlington Catholic after leading the Cougars to the Division 1 state title last winter. Adding to the fun: Uncle John Messuri is in his second year as head coach of the Arlington High boys’ squad.