What a difference 11 weeks makes.
After going 0-4-1 in the first tournament of the season in mid-September, the Boston Jr. Eagles girls’ 19U Tier II team got the wakeup call it sorely needed. The Eagles didn’t lose another game the rest of the fall season, going 14-0-3, and captured the USA Hockey Massachusetts District title by beating the rival East Coast Wizards 3-1 in the championship game.
Facing adversity in the opening tournament really paid dividends.
“That was a good character-building thing,” Eagles coach Joe Fleming said. “I think the girls rallied after that and we didn’t lose a game the rest of the year.”
Fleming called the tournament a bonding trip. The girls got to know one another and became a unit.
“We came back and worked our local schedule and they really fought hard and worked and were committed every week to getting better and trying to do the little things,” Fleming said.
After averaging 1.67 goals per game in the first nine games, the Eagles (14-4-4) averaged 5.92 goals in the final 13 contests.
“We got a lot of scoring from a lot of different girls as well, which was nice,” Fleming said. “I think a lot of that scoring came on dirty, greasy goals. We had some pretty goals, but I think they learned how to manufacture goals in different ways as the season went on.”
In the district tournament, the Eagles cruised to the finals by beating the Boston Jr. Shamrocks 11-0, the Springfield Jr. Thunderbirds 5-0, the Boston Lady Bandits 9-2, the Minuteman Lady Fires 4-1 and the Massachusetts Spitfires 3-1.
The East Coast Wizards stood in the way for the title. The two teams tied twice — 1-1 each time — during the regular season.
“You could tell before the game they were really focused on winning that game,” Fleming said. “It meant a lot to them and it meant a lot for each other to kind of pull through that game.”
The Eagles surrendered the game’s first goal, but rebounded a few minutes later with a Carly Stefanini tally mid-second period. Jordan Kowalski and Brianna O’Neill netted third period goals to help the Eagles pull away.
Fleming saw an energized group in the state tournament.
“I think just focusing on good defense,” Fleming said. “We were going to create offense from playing good defense. Girls were very attentive to how to play good, in-zone defense and not giving up easy chances or easy plays. … I think offensively, we just capitalized on some really opportunistic things.”
Eagles 19U Tier I defend crown
The Boston Jr. Eagles, the defending national champions at 19U Tier I, had another solid season.
Just making it out of the rugged state tournament against a slew of talented opponents is a feat in itself.
“You’ve got the Wizards who we beat in the semifinals, they’re a top-10 team,” Eagles coach Mike Mullowney said. “And we had to beat the Bay State Breakers in the championship. Just to get to the national tournament out of Massachusetts is quite an accomplishment.”
In the opening three games of the district tournament, the Eagles took down Assabet Valley 5-3, Massachusetts Spitfires 2-1 and the Boston Lady Bandits 6-0.
Against the Wizards in the semifinals, the Eagles put up 17 second-period shots en route to a 5-1 victory.
“We had a really high-powered offensive attack,” Mullowney said. “We’ve got some very skilled players, a lot of Division I commits. They were really clicking that weekend. It all came together.”
The Breakers fired 28 shots in the championship game, but Eagles goalie Paige Lin Bolyard stopped them all.
“Those two games back-to-back were probably our best performances of the year,” Mullowney said. “We have very committed athletes that are playing for the Jr. Eagles. Playing for the Jr. Eagles is not for everybody. We’re very committed; we’re very focused. We expect our kids to really put everything they have into our 10-week season, and it’s not easy. We bring in the kids that we think are good fits for our culture in the way we do things.”
Forward Gaby Roy, who will be attending Boston College, is one of the team’s top players.
“Dynamic left shot winger,” Mullowney said. “She’s been playing with me for five years and we’ve been to Nationals every year. She’s just been a tremendous player for me.”
Mullowney called Brown commit Maya Mangiafico one of the best two-way players he’s ever coached.
Another forward, Lilly Feeney, will be headed to play at Holy Cross.
“I call her ‘Mighty Mouse,’” Mullowney said. “She is small, but incredibly powerful. Just a very special player.”
Shorthanded Assabet Valley pulls it off
Playing with only 11 skaters and two goalies all season, the Assabet Valley 16U Tier I team was comforatble playing shorthanded. In fact, the girls thrived on it.
“The kids are just a very talented group of kids: skill-wise, skating and a desire to win,” said Assabet Valley coach Malcolm Spurling, who is also the head coach for the Salem State women’s hockey team. “They were just motivated to go out every time.”
Even though they are still young, there are four Division I commitments on the team. Kristina Allard has committed to Northeastern, Emerson O’Leary to Princeton, Cailin Flynn to Boston College and Antonina Dinges to Harvard.
“This is one of the most talented teams I’ve ever seen,” Spurling said. “They’re very, very skilled. They have it all. It’s just been a pleasure to coach them, and they know how to play the game.”
Assabet Valley (26-6-1) didn’t have an easy run to a state title, but it was a persistent group of girls.
They downed the Middlesex Islanders 6-0, Bay State Breakers 5-1, Massachusetts Spitfires 4-0 and the Boston Jr. Eagles 3-1 to get to the title game.
The Wizards got on the scoreboard first, but that didn’t deter the Eagles.
“This group just never gives up,” Spurling said. “They never think they’re down. They work extremely well together.”
Ashlyn Ham tied it up in the second period and then she won it at the 13:51 mark of the third to score the win.
“It was a great game to watch, exciting to coach,” Spurling said. “I was trying to make sure we did all the right things. Made sure that we had five players in every zone and worked all three zones very, very well.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.