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St. Mary’s girls’ hockey team geared up to start another run

By Cat Calsolaro
Globe Correspondent / December 15, 2011
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The St. Mary’s of Lynn girls’ hockey team was whistled for a penalty with a minute left to play in Saturday night’s season opener against Braintree. Trailing 2-1, the Wamps pulled their goalie to create a 6-on-4 power play.

However, a focused and experienced Spartan defense held off Braintree for the first win. And, more importantly, a fresh start.

“They are a good team, well coached, and physical,’’ said St. Mary’s coach Frank Pagliuca. “It was a good sign at the end of the game to kill the penalty.’’

“It’s about being in that moment and not getting caught up in the crowd. It’s about trusting each other and communication and wanting to be in that moment.’’

It was the Spartans’ first “moment’’ since their 3-2 overtime loss in the quarterfinals to eventual Division 1 state champion Hingham High last March. “Losing last year was hard because that was the first loss that I had at St. Mary’s,’’ said senior cocaptain Rachel Donahue.

The pain of that defeat - which broke a 100-game unbeaten streak - still stings, but the players learned more from one loss than they had from their 96 wins (and four ties).

“I never truly had a sense of losing or known how much of an impact it would make on me,’’ said cocaptain Genevieve Benoit. “I learned that [a win is] never going to be handed to you, you have to work for it.’’

St. Mary’s has nine returning players that will all bring tournament experience to the ice this year.

“A good core of the team coming back, the majority of whom have played in a lot of big games,’’ said Pagliuca. “They know what to expect.’’

A number of the returning players “have experienced the glory and, as far as last year, the downfall,’’ Benoit said. “Collectively we all want to be back there. We all want that state championship.’’

The Spartans graduated Sabrina Iannetti a two-time Globe All-Scholastic who now plays at Saint Anselm.

Pagliuca has high expectations for junior left wing Alison Butler.

“Alison has been a huge contributor for us since freshman year,’’ said Pagliuca. “She sees the ice very well; you’ll notice that she always has her head up. Her peripheral vision allows her to see what’s coming at her.’’

Donahue said Butler “knows how to score goals. She knows what to do with the puck and she back checks and helps out on defense.’’

A great finisher and passer, Butler netted 22 goals and added 27 assists for 49 points last year.

“We lost some players who scored a lot but Alison and the two transfers playing on her line this year are just getting started,’’ said Benoit. “Once you get Alison Butler started you can’t stop her.’’

The transfers are junior Brittani Lanzilli, who led the Greater Boston League in scoring at Medford High last season with 41 goals and 23 assists, and Kaleigh Finigan, a forward from Austin Prep.

“It’s a clean slate this year, we have different players and we are a different team,’’ said Pagliuca, who had to make some changes in the team’s defensive strategy to compensate for losing one of the area’s top goaltenders, Sarah Foss, to the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, N.Y.

“We simplified our play throughout the D-zone,’’ said Benoit. “It’s a whole new style of play, a whole new system to ease the pressure.’’

Sophomore Lauren Skinnon, who started four games (1.33 goals against average) last season, has taken over between the pipes.

“We have to focus on who’s in the locker room,’’ said Pagliuca. “Lauren Skinnon played a great game and didn’t look out of place.’’

Her teammates say that her poise and confidence is growing with every game and every save.

“She has done an awesome job, she has totally stepped up her game,’’ said Benoit. “What we tell her is ‘make the first save and we’ll try to do the rest.’ ’’

A handful of the players also skate for the Middlesex Islanders, a club team that runs from late summer to mid-November. “It helps us to get used to each other and know what our strengths and weaknesses are,’’ said Donahue.

St. Mary’s has high expectations; that hasn’t changed. But Hingham is now the hunted and the Spartans have joined the chase. “I think it’s going to be an exciting year in girls’ hockey,’’ said Pagliuca. “Everybody is chasing Hingham now. We have nothing to defend.’’

St. Mary’s faces Hingham twice at home on its loaded 22-game schedule.

Pagliuca says that the key to his team’s success is going to be their focus and teamwork. “It’s about us playing consistent hockey and focusing on getting back into the state tournament and then it becomes a one game season.

“We want to be playing our best hockey towards the end of the year.’’

Donahue and Benoit are the only seniors who have played all four years on varsity. They know exactly what it will take to reclaim their title.

“We need to work together as a team to move forward and recreate our success that we have had in the past,’’ said Benoit.

Cat Calsolaro can be reached at catcalso@bu.edu.

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