The thrilling victory, a 3-1 win over Gardner/St. Bernard’s Monday night in the Division 2 quarterfinals at the Ryan Rink, prompted the Tewksbury/Methuen players to jump off the bench and swarm goalie Taylor Lirakis at game’s end.
The junior captain (40 saves) had been brilliant, and her teammates celebrated en masse before going through the handshake line.
As the Red Rangers left the locker room and headed to the bus in Watertown, few of their fans had left the building: They formed a walkway for the girls to pass through, each cheering louder than the last.
One young girl was encouraged to go over to the team to “say good game to your heroes.”
“At this point in the season with these girls, it’s just more exciting,” said coach Kim Bruff. “We can’t ask for anything more, really.”
A year ago, neither Tewksbury nor Methuen fielded a varsity girls’ hockey team.
And when classes started in September, not enough girls signed up to play, which opened the door for seventh- and eighth-graders, something not uncommon for girls’ high school hockey programs.
At the conclusion of tryouts, the roster consisted of 17 players, including no seniors and seven junior high students.
One of the seventh-graders, 13-year-old Kelly Golini , is the team’s second-leading scorer (16 goals, 12 assists); she scored the go-ahead goal with 9:20 remaining in the game for a 2-1 lead.
Entering their inaugural season, expectations were not high for the program.
At 8-7-3, Tewksbury/Methuen barely squeezed into the Division 2 tourney after winning its final two games against Waltham and Concord-Carlisle.
In the preliminary round, the Red Rangers ripped 13th-seeded Norwell 10-3, then stunned No. 4 seed Canton, 7-3, a few days later, and then left fifth-seed Gardner speechless Monday night.
Next up, defending Division 2 state champion Duxbury Saturday at Gallo Rink in Bourne.
“I don’t think anybody expected this good of a season from a first-year team — it just doesn’t happen,” said Lirakis. “For us to even make the tournament was great. . . . It’s just a great feeling to know that we’ve done this well and surprised a lot of people.”
No one has made a more immediate impact than sophomore sniper Amanda Conway , who contributed a goal (empty-netter) and an assist Monday night to raise her season total to a staggering 52 goals (and 63 total points).
She lit up Waltham with seven goals in a 9-4 win. The state record, according to Bruff, is nine.
Bruff “told me to stop scoring after a while — she cut me off,” said Conway,. “But I didn’t want to be mean to the goalie.”
Skating for the junior varsity boys’ squad at Methuen High last year, Conway estimated she finished with roughly 15 points. But 52 goals?
Her father, Brian , who coached Conway at the youth level, wanted his daughter to go for the state record (57).
“He thought I could do it,” she said. “I didn’t. I said ‘I think you’re crazy.’ ”
So what’s it like to score seven goals in a single game?
“I get in the zone and I’m just there,” she said. “When I have the puck, I just shoot it and it goes in. It just happens.”
From the viewpoint of a goalie, Lirakis said Conway “can dangle.”
“Her one-on-one with a goalie . . . she’s going to win 99 percent of the time,” she said, “if not 100 percent. If you’re a new goalie to her, she’s going to beat you.”
Despite her terrific season, Conway has remained humble.
“It’s not about the goals, it’s about winning the games and getting my team to move on,” she said.
“I didn’t think we were even going to make states, but we’ve made it this far so we can definitely go all the way.”