Ask the Boston Jr. Eagles a few years ago if they thought they would be playing at the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships, and their answer wouldn’t have been the same as this year.
But in 2023, thanks to their goalie tandem of Annabelle Aitken and Sophia Luoni, the Boston Jr. Eagles embraced a new identity and made an impact in the Girls Tier I 14U division.
In two seasons, Annabelle and Sophia posted impressive numbers. Through two seasons, theycombined for 41 shutouts (36 percent of games played) and yielded just 1.27 goals per game. They combined for 24 shutouts in 65 games in 2021-22 and 17 shutouts in 49 games in 2022-23. Entering nationals, they had given up two goals or less in regulation in 99 of 114 games: 56 of 65 in 2021-22 and 43 of 49 in 2022-23. They surrendered more than two goals in only 15 of 114 games over two full seasons.
Coming off a Massachusetts Hockey State title, head coach Zach Hafer realized how lucky he was to have such a skilled duo in net.
“It’s a blessing as a coach, it just doesn’t get any better than that. One of them elevates, and then the next one elevates,” Hafer said from the tournament which took place in Dallas, Texas. “The thing that I’m particularly proud of, as a coaching staff, we have a rotation. A lot of teams this age, the goalies spilt the games in half. For three years, we have not split the games.”
What’s their secret? Their steadfast support for each other, and their dedication to pushing each other to be the best goaltender possible.
“Between periods we always talk to each and pick each other up. We talk about the goals that happened during the period, and always tell each other how good the other is doing,” said Luoni.
“We’re just able to kind of cheer each on, during practice and on the bench. Talk to each other about what we should improve on. We’re just really skilled so we both get to push each other,” said Annabelle.
The success that the Jr. Eagles saw this year was remarkable, and something they weren’t takingfor granted. In just three years together, Annabelle and Sophia have been able to help transform the team and assist in exciting wins over top teams, boosting their confidence. Recounting their team’s past struggles, Annabelle doesn’t take for granted the achievements they’ve accomplished.
“Four or five years ago, we were losing to these teams, eleven to nothing,” said Annabelle.
“We’ve worked really hard and just have gotten better every year and now we finally have the chance to play at USA Hockey Nationals against these teams and have the chance to beat them,” she said during the tournament, in which her squad ended up with three straight wins before falling in the quarterfinals 1-0 to Little Caesars.
Head coach Hafer called the team’s goaltenders the “backbone of the team.”
Annabelle and Sophia are humbled by the assessment and give praise to their teammates for demonstrating exceptional skill in front of them.
“I’m just glad I can be somebody the team can lean on. Everyone plays great, but I’m just glad I can be there to help out,” said Luoni.
Beyond results, Hafer's main prerogative has always been for his team to have fun, as he recalled his own stint at USA Hockey Nationals 34 years ago.
“I told them that I played in USA Hockey Nationals 34 years ago, and I still remember my shifts,” said Hafer.
“I told them to seize the moment. Make sure you compete and battle every time you’re on the ice, because you’re going to remember this every time you’re on the ice.”
The results may not have panned out for the Boston Jr. Eagles at 2023 nationals, but the memories – particularly for two goalie friends - will stay with them forever.