Published March 13, 2019
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
WOBURN — The Div. 1 girls hockey tournament is pound-for-pound the toughest bracket in Massachusetts high school sports.
There are no sectionals tournaments, just one big state clash to decide the best.
So when it reads that the Peabody/Lynnfield/North Reading girls’ hockey team lost in the quarterfinals don’t buy it.
After a magical run that included the program’s first postseason win with victories over Winthrop and St. Mary’s, the Tanners finally hit the end of the road against an extremely talented Methuen/Tewksbury team who entered Thursday night’s game with a 19-1-1 record and were outscoring their opponents by an average of about 5-1.
“What we talked about in the locker room was this doesn’t feel great but we did some really good things this season: we won the league, qualified for the tournament back in January, beat Winthrop and St. Mary’s, both quality clubs and we were able to get here so you know every year we go a little bit further,” said head coach Michelle Roach. “I think I have a great squad and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The game was much closer than the 7-1 final score indicated with the Tanners even after one period and down 3-1 heading into the third.
The final frame showed an exhausted PLNR squad struggling to keep up with a well-rested Rangers team who won the final period 4-0.
“They’re a fast club and they’re well-coached,” said Roach of Methuen/Tewksbury. “We had two days to get ready and they had four days off so it was a tight turnaround for us. We had a huge game against St. Mary’s on Monday and it was a very physical game. I think today we were slow to get to the puck and we were a little too passive.”
Like the rest of Methuen’s opponents this year, the Tanners had no answer for Julia Masotta, a lightning-quick forward playing in her first season for the program after previously playing for the Boston Shamrocks Junior Hockey team. Masotta scored four goals and tallied one assist.
Masotta was the first to light the lamp in this one, scoring on a power play and ending Lynnfield goalie Abby Buckley’s terrific run of six consecutive postseason periods without allowing a goal.
The Tanners responded well and kept Methuen’s strong offense at bay until they capitalized on a power play opportunity of their as North Reading’s Sammie Miralsolo collected her 98th career point with a goal. Lynnfield’s Carolyn Garofoli did a great job of keeping a clearing attempt in the zone. She put a puck on net through plenty of traffic, including the stick of North Reading’s Paige Thibedeau who tipped it to the weak side for a waiting Mirasolo.
“I thought we settled things down for a little bit in the first,” said Roach. “Getting that equalizer on the power play was huge.”
Although the Rangers outshot the Tanners 13-5 in the period, both teams went into the break tied 1-1.
Masotta scored her second power play goal to give Methuen/Tewksbury a 2-1 lead just 3:46 into the second.
The Tanners’ second power play with 9:47 left in the period resulted in a backbreaking shorthanded goal, again by Masotta who took the puck away in the neutral zone and scored on the backhand.
PLNR’s penalty killers came through late in the period to keep the deficit at 3-1.
An already tiring Tanner squad faced an onslaught of 14 shots in the third and couldn’t keep up as Methuen/Tewksbury maintained their relentless pressure, knowing full well the offensive firepower they were facing.
While no doubt a disappointing end, a feeling of pride and accomplishment reigned for a team that continues to create progress at a blistering pace.
“This is our new benchmark,” said Roach. “We just to push it more every year. We ended this season at 17-5-2 which is the most points the program has seen by far so this is our new baseline and we’re going to do some great things next year I have no doubt of that.”
The Tanners certainly have a complete team returning and now with plenty of experience, but Roach was quick to credit the seniors, Buckley, North Reading’s Charlotte Grant and Jess Robert and Peabody’s Kat DiGiulio, a group she calls the “Core Four.”
“They almost got me in the locker room,” said Roach fighting back a tear with a smile. “The ‘Core Four’ has been with me since I took the job here so they mean a lot to me. Without their leadership we wouldn’t be where we are today. They helped make this program what it is. I relied on them in most situations and they’ve made this program so much better; I’m so proud of them and I told them they better come back and visit.”
If the Tanners keep up this level play, they can expect plenty of fans to come back and visit too.