LYNN, Mass. -- As a member of the Austin Prep girls hockey team the past two years, Kaleigh Finigan had to sit back and watch as St. Mary's wrapped up Catholic Central League championships in part at the expense of her team.
This year, the junior transfer from Medford found out what it's like to be on winning side, as well as what it feels like to be a major factor behind the Spartans success.
Finigan scored twice and added an assist as the No. 4 Lady Spartans held off No. 6 Arlington Catholic for the second time in a week to take a 4-2 decision Wednesday night at Connery Rink.
"It's very different," said a smiling Finigan on winning the league title. "It's my first time getting it. It means a lot knowing that our team can win the league and keep going on with the wins. And we'll keep going hard. We just want to keep playing better and better every game. That's our goal."
Playing better and better every game is something Finigan and her linemates, Alison Butler and Brittani Lanzilli, have certainly done. Butler added a goal and two assists in last night's victory, while Lanzilli had a goal an assist. Their may be no hotter offensive trio in the state at this stage of the season.
"We decided to leave them together for the last month or so and they're really starting - not only in the offensive zone but even in the defensive zone - they're really starting to trust each other and learn from each other," St. Mary's coach Frank Pagliuca said. "I think Brittani and Kaleigh had a transition coming in here and Alison's done a great job settling them down. As you can see, they're starting to get it. They're not hesitating anymore. They're starting to play with speed and its making a huge difference for us."
Finigan scored twice in the first period as the Spartans (13-3-0, 6-0-0 CCL) jumped out to a quick lead. Her first tally exemplified the communication and trust factor that has evolved on that first line. With Butler working her way around the back of the Cougars (15-2-1, 4-2-0) net, Finigan screamed "Middle!" and Butler hit her right on the tape for an easy one-timer.
"We finally got used to each other and know where we are and communicating more," Butler said. "I just heard her. We've done it a couple of times now this year and I know where she is when I hear her."
Finigan added her second tally on the rebound of a Butler shot right before the end of the first, and Butler took one for herself on a nice backhander from the low slot to give the Spartans a 3-0 lead with 6:24 remaining in the second.
Arlington Catholic found a spark, and Allison Stone got the Cougars right back into the game by scoring just 44 seconds later. thins got a bit sloppy after that as the two teams traded five penalties back and forth, but AC got another goal as Duggan Delano hammered home a rebound of a shot by Adrieanna Rossini (two assists) to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 1:23 left in the frame.
Lanzilli quickly pulled the momentum back to the Spartans side early in the third when she floated around the back of the AC goal and flicked a backhander through while attempting to get off the ice for a line change.
Thanks to goalie Lauren Skinnion (23 saves) and strong defensive play from standout blue liner Rachel Donahoe, the Spartans were able to hold off the Cougars and wrap up another Catholic Central crown.
"It's a great accomplishment," Pagliuca said. "Although our league's not big, we have some tough teams. It's tough to play three league games right in a row and to play (AC) twice in a week is no easy feat. I'm very proud of my kids. They've battled hard all year and they keep getting better.
"That's the thing I'm noticing - every game they're getting better," he continued. "It's not pretty every game but you can see it. You can see them making better decisions overall and you can see us playing with more confidence. It's a wide open year this year and the hot team is going to be successful. We're just trying to play our best going into the tournament."