As the old saying goes: sometimes the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.
While perhaps a strange choice of adage for a Division I State Championship contest featuring a pair of Catholic schools, Maggie Taverna and her Lady Cougars can certainly attest to its veracity.
Despite losing both its regular-season meetings with St. Mary’s-Lynn, and losing out on the Catholic Central League title to the Lady Spartans, the girls hockey team prevailed when it mattered most and captured the second state title in the program’s 14-year history with a 3-1 victory over the four-time state champions at TD Garden this morning.
“We just had a great year and we did all the little things right today,” said AC bench boss Taverna. “The other times we’ve played them, there was this stigma that we’ve never beaten them. This was the state championship and there was a little more on the line ... We just came out and played our game, and it worked this time.”
Arlington Catholic (21-3-1) must have had some kind of breakfast, as they hit the ice at 9 a.m. ready to play, and the energy level they skated with far surpassed anything produced by St. Mary’s-Lynn.
“We weren’t on the same level as Arlington Catholic today,” said St. Mary’s-Lynn (21-4-1) coach Frank Pagliuca. “They deserved to win; we didn’t really show up to play, and it was disappointing from our end. You’ve got to give credit to AC with how well they played today. They were tremendous in all three periods. They wanted the game more.”
The Lady Cougars employed an authoritative forecheck and some solid play in net to hand a sloppy and, at times, sluggish looking St. Mary’s squad a painful defeat on the biggest high school stage in the state.
“We went over forecheck a lot at practice this week,” recalled Taverna. “We figured if we could hem them in the defensive zone ... It’s easy to play in the offensive zone, it’s hard to play in the defensive zone because you’re constantly running around ... They listened. I told them something and they actually did it.”
Lady Cougars goalie Megan Messuri gloved 28 saves on the game, while her counterpart, Lauren Skinnion, recorded 27 saves in defeat. AC was outshot 30 to 29 on the day.
“It’s been unreal,” Messuri said, enjoying the moment after the game. “I don’t even know how to handle it ... We just used our momentum really well ... I don’t want to let anyone down, I’m the last line of defense.”
AC was able to capitalize early on the shaky play of Lady Spartans netminder Skinnion, who didn’t have her best day in net by any stretch, and ultimately withstand some late pressure from St. Mary’s-Lynn to earn the title of champions.
The Lady Spartans were 0-for-6 on the power play and even conceded a shorthanded goal. Neither being the calling cards of a championship-caliber unit.
“I just felt like we were in quicksand for most of the game to be honest with you,” Pagliuca said. “We had a little spurt in the second period, but I give credit to AC: They were all over us; They were all over the puck. We just didn’t get it going today.”
The Lady Cougars opened their account with just under four minutes remaining in the opening stanza, when senior forward Natalie Flynn took possession of a loose puck just behind the blue line and skated down the left side into the offensive zone. St. Mary’s-Lynn Sophomore defender Amanda Donohoe was powerless to stop Flynn from turning the corner on her and beating netminder Lauren Skinnion, sliding the puck around her pads and into the corner of the net to stake AC to a 1-0 lead. Senior defenseman Rebecca Zappala assisted on the opening tally.
“I thought if we scored first we were going to win the game,” said Flynn. “That’s what I was trying to do, just get the puck in the net first.”
In the early going, the Lady Spartans looked a good bet to open the scoring, at one point owning a 10-3 shots on goal advantage, but it bears noting that Arlington Catholic’s chances—few though they were—looked more threatening than those of their opponents. In any case, the Lady Spartans would even things up a bit on that end, and by periods end, they trailed just 10-8 in shots on goal. Both teams had one power play opportunity in the first period, but neither were able to capitalize.
“We knew that was the only way we were going to win, if we wanted it more,” said Flynn. “We had to come off the ice right away and go right to the net. And that’s what we did.”
It looked like St. Mary’s-Lynn had a golden opportunity to add to its lead early in the second, after sophomore forward Duggan Delano was sent to the penalty box, but a great individual effort from freshman Adrieana Rossini yielded a shorthanded strike with less than two minutes gone in the frame.
Rossini took the puck across center ice and raced towards Skinnion, then deftly deposited the puck into the suddenly gaping left half of the net to give the Lady Cougars a 2-0 lead.
“She’s probably our next up-and-coming star,” said Taverna of Rossini. “She is like that grinding type of kid, but she also has the talent. She doesn’t stop moving her feet from the second she gets out there until she gets off the ice.”
Seconds later, AC would add another goal to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Freshman Allyson Cunningham knocked down a clearing pass inside the blue line and loosed a long-range offering towards Skinnion that was met by in the crease by the Lady Spartans junior backstop, but somehow trickled through her pads into the back of the net.
Former Medford High standout Brittani Lanzilli finally got the Lady Spartans on the board with 9:21 left in the penultimate frame with a truly Herculean effort. The sophomore forward took the puck through the entirety of the AC defense before cutting back into the middle of the ice and ripping a wicked wrist shot past a helpless Messuri in the Lady Cougars net.
While Lanzilli’s tally put some legs beneath the largely listless Lady Spartans, the shot in the arm proved to be fleeting and St. Mary’s-Lynn was unable to mount any serious bouts of offensive pressure.
The former Mustang Lanzilli, however, nearly created another St. Mary’s-Lynn goal when she delivered a beautiful pass to the stick of Gina Beth Manganiello on a two-on-one breakaway chance, but Messuri was able to glove the sophomore’s offering before it could do any damage.
“I was just saying to myself: ‘anything and everything to win this game.’ I’ve got to give it my all,” said Messuri. “Whatever it takes to get the puck on my stick or in my glove ... Just be one with the puck. It’s the same puck wherever you play. At the Garden, wherever. It’s the same puck.”
The Lady Spartans would have several power play opportunities towards the end of the third, but Messuri held fast and Arlington Catholic emerged the victors.
“It’s all for them, it’s all about them,” said Taverna. “They are the ones that play the game. We just stand there on the sidelines and tell them what to do. They are the ones that actually get it done.”