BOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Hingham coach Tom Findley was looking for signs of improvement in all facets when his team took the ice Saturday night against Acton-Boxborough. He certainly left the rink with good feelings.
Catherine Linehan notched a hat trick and Jane Freda added a goal and an assist as the Harborwomen took a 4-2 decision over the Colonials in a game slowed by 13 penalties at Nashoba Valley Olympia.
"It's always good to beat a team like Acton. Brian's got them prepared and they played an awesome game," Findley said. "Their power play was great, they got two power play goals. They protect the box, they played great. We had to really battle hard to come out with a victory. Our top forward put the puck in the net to win the game for us and that's what it comes down to."
Penalties would be a theme and it was Acton-Boxborough (1-2-1) who struck first, cashing in on its first power play. Senior captain Lauren Roche did a tremendous job to keep the puck alive in the Hingham zone, poking it behind the boards to Eleana Cardarelli. Cardarelli drifted out and quickly snuck a pass across to junior defenseman Annie Messuri, playing her first game after missing the last two with a wrist injury, who banged home the one-timer at 6:32.
Hingham won the ensuing faceoff and Freda served up a nice feed to Linehan, who buried her shot to tie the game just 26 seconds later. Penalties began to play a crucial role as A-B took a pair in the final minute of the opening frame, and then got tagged with two more in the second, giving the Harborwomen consecutive five-on-three advantages, the latter of which last 1:21.
The Colonials killed off both, but Hingham broke through a second after the last one expired. Sam Ryder pushed the back to Tori Messina at the point for a quick wrist shot, Cali Loblundo (19 saves) made the initial save but Linehan swooped in from the boards and stuck in the rebound to give the Harborwomen a 2-1 lead at 5:52.
Hingham then found itself in the penalty box and A-B cashed in again as Cardarelli redirected a shot by Roche to tie the game 45 seconds later at 2-2. Freda popped in the game-winner off a feed from Linehan at 7:27 of the third, and Linehan capped her big night with an empty-netter for the final score.
NEWLY CONFIDENT GOALIE
In the later stages of the third period, an A-B skater rushed into the Hingham crease looking for a rebound and pulled up short upon realizing there was none, sending a shower of snow into the face of Hingham goalie Taylor Walsh. Walsh hopped to her feet immediately and came charging out to voice her displeasure.
A year ago, Walsh was an inexperienced sophomore netminder stuck with the role of replacing four-year starter and two-time state championship winner Beth Findley. She improved tremendously over the course of the year in terms of her on-ice play, but her confidence level remained a work in progress.
That has clearly changed. Now a junior, Walsh not only showed off her feisty side in the example above, but showed a willingness to get out of her crease to challenge shooters and even flash the glove around a bit. Walsh was at her best in the third, stopping seven shots and finishing with 16 saves.
"Taylor was great in the third period, she was awesome," praised Findley. "She's a solid goalie and a great kid. She comes to practice every day and works her tail off. Success comes from hard work and that's what I'm proud of her with."
"She got sprayed and she was upset about it. I kind of like that, Findley continued with a big grin. "Last year was her first year playing and she probably didn't know how to react. But now, after playing a while and being an upperclassman, she's going to react. I was very happy with her performance for sure."
POSITIVE SIGNS FOR A-B
While 1-2-1 was not the record Colonials coach Brian Fontas had envisioned for his talented group at this stage, there were many things to chalk up in the plus-column.
Loblundo, now in her third year as a starter despite being just a freshman, was terrific in the early going, making the bulk of her saves between the first and second periods.
Messuri, an ESPN Boston preseason second-team All-State selection, showed no signs of being bothered by her wrist injury despite being forced to wear a cast to protect it. The junior scored a power-play goal, played rock-solid defense in her own end and captained the shorthanded unit that killed off seven penalties.
In fact, it was that special teams play that kept the Colonials in the game. The Harborwmen had two-man advantages that lasted 39 seconds and 1:21 and A-B's penalty killers managed to kill off both among the seven power plays they were forced to defend.
"Annie Messuri is our top penalty killer. She's just tremendous in the defensive zone," Fontas praised. "She really thrives on the penalty kill. She's so good at eating the puck in the corner. I thought Eleana and Leah Cardeaelli did great when they were out there, Lauren Roche, Kaitlin Hoang, Megan Barrett - they did a tremendous job. It's not easy to kill a penalty against Hingham."
And while the final result wasn't what Fontas had hoped for, the effort was and if that continues, things will definitely turn positive for his team in a hurry.
"I'm not disappointed," he stated proudly. "I told the girls that if they continue to play like we're going to win some hockey games. That's why we schedule teams like that, it makes us better. We're young and we made a couple mistakes. We are seasoned but they are still young and when you get in those pressure situations, sometimes stuff happens."