BOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Motivation can be a big weapon if it's used correctly and is applied with heart and determination behind it.
The fifth-ranked Acton-Boxborough girls hockey team had plenty of reason to be motivated entering last night's game against No. 3 Hingham. The last time the two teams met, the Colonials watched the Harborwomen skate around the TD Garden ice with the Div. 1 state championship trophy following a 3-1 loss.
Determined to atone for that, A-B made a pretty big statement Saturday night as eighth-grade forward Kaitlin Hoang scored the game's lone goal just 2:05 into the opening period while eighth-grade Cali Loblundo had 31 saves to make it stick as the Colonials took down Hingham, 1-0, at Nashoba Valley Olympia.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say that game in the Garden last year wasn't a huge motivation for us this year," admitted A-B coach Brian Fontas. "Any motivational tool you can use with the girls is big."
Co-captain Emily Loebs, one of just two Colonials seniors with fellow co-captain Kati Goguen, noted that the bad memories of that night at TD Garden were still fresh in hers and her teammates minds.
"Every practice since we came back from break, Coach started off by staying 'this is for Hingham. They beat us in the Garden.'" Loebs said in a refreshing bit of honesty. "Me and Kati, we tried to enforce that, as much as the entire team should want to win, because of the sole reason that they beat us in the Garden, that should give you a fire inside among everything else that."
TEAM DEFENSE FIRST
The other subject of the Colonials practices this past week revolved around defense and killing penalties. A-Bs quartet of defenders - Loebs, Annie Messuri, Alex Loblundo and Alex Macrides - did a spectacular job of limiting Hingham's chances to utilize its devastating team speed to create scoring chances and blocked numerous shots.
Stuck facing six shorthanded situations, including a pair of 5-on-3s, penalty killers Loebs, Messuri, Goguen, Lauren Roche, Hoang, Olivia Keefe and Megan Barrett managed to hold off the normally deadly Harborwomen every time.
"Our penalty kill was just incredible," praised Fontas. "We really stress penalty kill and team defense. My assistant coach Jeff Vaughan is just amazing. He was a defensive player at Northeastern. He stresses it and works on it constantly every day so we're prepared in that area."
"It's just determination and hard work, it doesn't take a lot of skill to penalty kill," Fontas continued. "It just takes heart and determination and we had that tonight. To kill two 5 on 3s is pretty incredible against that offense."
Added Hingham coach Tom Findley on his team's lack of power play success, "That's a killer and I told the kids we're going to have to work on that the next couple of days. We were a little hesitant. We haven't had a lot of five on threes and I think the kids were trying to run the regular power play. You don't have to do that. You can basically use the low post and do a lot of different things. We were trying to do the hook and ladders and the D to D too much."
WEATHERING THE STORM
Hingham started off a bit slow, but as the game wore on, the number of chances began to increase along with the quality of those opportunities. The diminutive Loblundo improved right along with them.
Standing at what we'll just call a flat five feet tall, the 13-year old netminder took her game to another level in the third period. Several times, the Harborwomen found themselves with chances for one-timers or sim-ply staring straight in at the A-B goal. Every time, Loblundo's quickness and uncanny reflexes put her in position to make the stops.
"Most of the time there were screens so I didn't really know what was going on and I kind of just dropped, guessing and hoping," Loblundo admitted with a smile. "Sometimes when I could see it I was thinking about the fact that they beat us last year and I don't want that to happen again."
Findley knows a thing or two about goaltending in his own right, having won Division 1 and 2 state titles with his daughter Beth in the cage, came away even more impressed than he already was with Loblundo's ability.
"She played fantastic," he said. "She's an elite goalie, she stays square to the puck and she's only in the eighth grade so she's only going to get bigger and better."