ARLINGTON, Mass. -- It took all of 25 seconds for the St. Mary's girls' hockey team to show it was capable to answering the bell when adversity came calling. In the bigger picture, the 45 minutes the Spartans put together Wednesday night might do exactly the same.
Kaleigh Finigan had a hat trick and two assists, Alison Butler added two goals and three helpers and Lauren Skinnion stopped 24 shots to help No. 3 St. Mary's topple previously unbeaten No. 7 Arlington Catholic, 5-2, last night at Ed Burns Arena.
In the process, the Spartans (11-4-0 overall, 4-0-0 Catholic Central League) qualified for the postseason, took a one-game lead over the Cougars (14-1-1, 3-1-0) atop the league standings while picking up a much needed bounce-back victory.
"It was good to see us respond to a little bit of adversity, I was proud of them for that," Spartans head coach Frank Pagliuca said. "I thought the game was physical, I thought AC had some opportunities to score and Lauren came up big for us. Great win for us, a good bounce back win. Big league win as well. AC is a great team. They're going to be one of the team's fighting for it at the end."
St. Mary's jumped out fast in this one, something they haven't always been able to do on the season. Butler screamed a pass down to the low slot where Finigan was able to tip it past AC goalie Megan Messuri 4:09 into the game.
The Spartans top line of Finigan, Butler and Brittani Lanzilli (2 A) continued to pressure, and Lanzilli came up with the assist of the year, threading the puck between the skates of an AC defender to Butler, who made a nice move outside the crease to tuck it just past the right skate of Messuri with 2:27 left in the first.
Then, just 21 seconds into the second, Butler sprung Finigan and the junior fired a shot from the high slot that went off a defenseman's stick, shot over the head of Messuri and somehow ended up in the net behind her.
Skinnion made 11 of her 24 stops during the second but Arlington Catholic caught a break when Melissa Richard snuck one through right at the buzzer and Adrieana Rossini kept the momentum going with a shorthanded breakaway goal at 3:25 of the third.
As the walls seemed to be caving in, the Spartans got plays from Finigan, Skinnion and senior captain Rachel Donahoe that turned the tide back in their favor.
Finigan popped in her third goal of the night just 25 seconds after Rossini's tally to stop the bleeding, then Skinnion turned in perhaps her best save of the season as Rossini got loose again, and Donahoe came flying back into her own end to snuff out yet another breakaway bid, this time by Natalie Flynn.
"I thought Rachel Donahoe was unbelievable tonight," Pagliuca said. "She was all over the ice. She's a captain and she's really starting to step up and elevate her game. And Lauren Skinnion I thought was phenomenal."
Butler tacked on one more goal on a rebound of a Finigan shot with 3:45 remaining to close out the scoring.
While the taste of the season's first loss will be sour for the Cougars, they will have a chance to get it back when the two teams meet again next Wednesday at Connery Rink in Lynn (4:30 p.m.).
"When we play St. Mary's there's always that stigma that exists from previous years," admitted AC coach Maggie Taverna. "The kids know like last year, they creamed us 8-1, and they came in excited. Sometimes I feel like they get over-excited and they hold their sticks to tight or they dump pucks and things too quickly. St. Mary's, even though they have a short bench, they're a great team. We're excited to play them again next week. I told the kids, let it stick with you, let it sting a little bit because we have another chance."
Pagliuca's praise of Donahoe was most certainly warranted. A preseason ESPNBoston All-State defenseman and one of just two seniors on the squad, Donahoe turned in a brilliant performance while being matched against the the talented Flynn. Everywhere Flynn went on the ice, Donahoe was was within arms reach. Not only did Donahoe chase Flynn down on the breakaway but she continually forced the Cougars star forward to take wide angles with the puck rather than drive to the net where she is deadly.
"She's definitely one of the players we needed to look out for on the ice," Donahoe said of Flynn. "She has a good shot, she's very good at seeing the game so whenever she's out there we had to make sure she was covered or it wasn't going to be a good deal."
"I was just saying to myself, 'Don't let her shoot and get the puck to the corner,'" the senior continued. "Mainly I was just trying to keep a body on her, keep her to the outside of the goal and not let her get any opportunities to put the puck in the back of the net."
Along with Donahoe, fellow blueliners Tatiana Doucette, Hannah Quin and Amanda Donahoe turned in strong performances. The shots on goal total for AC would have been much higher if not for this unit's relentless work in both blocking and forcing bad shots.
"Lot of blocks, they moved the puck pretty well. We got caught a couple of times flat-footed and AC has some good speedy forwards that exploited us a little but I thought D zone, we played much better. I thought we moved the puck well out of the zone. They came down hard and crashed on the walls and I thought we made a nice adjustment coming out of the zone.
GOLD STAR FOR THE GOALIE
Despite a terrific night for the St. Mary's defense, Arlington Catholic still managed several breakouts and had plenty of good scoring opportunities. If not for the play of Skinnion, AC might still be undefeated and it would be the Spartans looking for revenge in next Wednesday's rematch.
The sophomore was particularly brilliant in the final three minutes of the second period. She zipped to the far post to cover a wraparound attempt by ACs Michaela Scutti, made a great stop on Flynn (who also hit two posts) walking in from the blue line and covered the post as Katie Waitt tried to jam the rebound through.
Then in the third, with the memory of Rossini's breakaway goal still fresh in her mind, Skinnion saw the exact same play develop, adjusted, and made a spectacular stop.
"I didn't want to let in the same goal again," Skinnion admitted when asked about her thought process on the play. "The first time I didn't come back fast enough so I tried to stay back a little bit more. (Rossini) went to the left again and I thought she was probably going to try and do the same thing so I just tried to stay low and make sure I got the pad on the puck."