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U19 Half Season:

U19 Shamrocks Repeat As State Champs.... Advance To Nationals April 5-9 At NESC

Monday, November 27, 2017, 8:17AM

By Greg Bates
Red Line Editorial

The Shamrocks finished 17-0 and captured [the 19U Massachusetts State Championship] at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Massachusetts, November 24-26.  As a result, the team will make its second straight trip to the USA Hockey Girls Tier II 19U National Championship tournament, which will be held April 5-9 in the Shamrocks' backyard of Marlborough.

Getting back to nationals was an important step for the 12 returning players who played on the big stage last year.  “Over the course of the regular season, it's not something we really talked about at all,” Shamrocks coach Steve Kennedy said. “We had about six or seven new kids on the team and I didn't want to live in the past. I wanted to make sure they knew we were focused on the present and the future moving forward. It wasn't really until we made it to the state tournament one of my girls actually said something to me. She goes, ‘Hey, I want to make it back to nationals again.' And she said, ‘I'm not the only one.'  “For them, it was on their minds. It's tough to do it once, so for them to come back and do it again is big.”

The Shamrocks went 2-2 in last year's national tournament and advanced to the quarterfinals.  In order to qualify for nationals this time around, the Shamrocks had to play six games in three days. The team finished 6-0.  “For the kids, we had them shuffling around in different spots in the lineup, kids playing out of position game by game,” Kennedy said. “We had some kids going every other shift to get some matchups we were looking for. It was impressive to see how well the girls hung in there, how mentally strong they were over the course of the weekend.”

The Shamrocks beat Assabet Valley 4-1 in the opener, and then downed the Charles River Bandits and the Massachusetts Spitfires by identical 3-2 scores. In the quarterfinals of the 12-team tournament, the Shamrocks topped the Middlesex Islanders 7-3. The Minuteman Lady Flames were overwhelmed in the semifinals, with the Shamrocks victorious 6-0.

In the finale, the Shamrocks had a strong first two periods against the East Coast Wizards and led 3-1. The Wizards scored twice to send it to overtime. In the extra session, first-year Shamrock Kelly Golini scored at the 4:53 mark to send her team to Nationals.

“They were thrilled, absolutely thrilled,” Kennedy said. “They were really excited for the kids that were on the team last year to win them back-to-back. For the new kids, though, for some of them it was their first taste of a state championship, so that was really cool.” 

To have a two-goal lead in the third period and have the game sent into overtime was disappointing for the Shamrocks. However, the girls never wavered and pulled out the win.  “I think it speaks to the level of focus they had,” Kennedy said. “There was only one penalty taken in the game, and we actually took that. It was in overtime, so the kids had to face the momentum shift. All the momentum kind of went to the Wizards side when they tied it up. They had to endure the penalty kill and the mental fatigue of that.” 

Kennedy was impressed with how well his goalies, Marina Marabella and Kasey Libby, played all weekend. In front of them, they have a group of girls who will are willing to do whatever it takes to earn a victory.   “We have a bunch of kids out there that are like Patrice Bergeron from our [Boston] Bruins team, who are consummate two-way players,” Kennedy said. “They'll skate just as hard in their backcheck and they'll work just as furiously to win a puck in our zone as they will to get it up the ice and go down the other way to score a goal.”

Kennedy is looking forward to getting his girls back together at the end of March and having them clicking like they were during the fall season.  “You can really see the way that they grow and the way that they come together between Labor Day and for us Thanksgiving,” Kennedy said. “We try to look at the progression of the season in terms of playing as a team, but the thing that's the most rewarding for me is to see these kids come together. A lot of them didn't know each other. Labor Day weekend, when you first get started, and by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, it's hugs and smiles and borderline tearful goodbyes because of the bond they've been able to forge over those three months.” 

Even with a senior-laden team, Kennedy isn't putting too much pressure on his girls in their last hurrah to do well at nationals.  “We always try to take it game by game and we always try to tell the kids that for each challenge we want them to go out and compete and work hard,” Kennedy said. “Make smart decisions when they have the puck and play well when they don't have it. If we can accomplish that and we can go out and have some fun, then that's the biggest goal.”