As Mackenzie Clark watched the University of Massachusetts Boston women’s hockey squad work through a practice session last week, she envisioned donning a Beacons’ jersey.
With pillow and travel bag in hand, she patiently observed the drills and on-ice camaraderie between the players. The Lynn teen spent two days on campus, shadowing the players and taking part in team-building activities, hopeful of joining the squad next season as a player.
Clark has led the cooperative Winthrop/Lynn girls’ hockey team to a 10-2-1 start this season, producing 34 points through the first 13 games. A member of the varsity since the eighth grade, her career point total stands at 171, and she is within range of becoming the first player in program history to reach 200.
A 5-foot-3 center, Clark started playing hockey at the age of 4, rising through the Lynn Youth Hockey Program until the age of 10. “She loved playing with the boys,’’ said her father, Russ. “But when she started playing with the girls, that’s when she found her stride.’’
Initially, she worked on her stick skills on a main drag in Lynn, and continued to pursue hockey, partly as an outlet as her parents struggled to make their relationship work.
“Hockey was her and her brother’s outlet,’’ confirmed her father. “It kept them busy through our divorce.’’
Busy is an understatement. Clark played for the North Shore Vipers and the Middlesex Islanders, participated in summer camps, and skated in other leagues before she even entered high school.
“I played a lot of hockey growing up and just became consumed by it,’’ said Clark. “Being a senior captain this year, I know I have to lead by example rather than talk a big game, and that’s what I’ve been doing.’’
In a recent 4-1 victory against host Barnstable, Clark delivered a hat trick. Barnstable had won the first meeting, 1-0.
“Mackenzie is a force on the ice,’’ said Lynn/Winthrop coach Anthony Martucci Jr.
“She’s a goalie’s nightmare because of her back check and the fact that she always lurks right in front of the net.’’
In her five years on the varsity, she has raised her point totals each season (28, 32, 36, and 41 last year), with most of her points coming as assists.
“She feeds the puck as well as anyone,’’ said Martucci. “She’s not a scorer, but she can be when she needs to be.’’
The Winthrop/Lynn girls have knocked off St. Mary’s of Lynn and Beverly/Danvers, remaining undefeated in GEMIHL Northeast conference play (7-0).
“We’ve picked up the intensity,’’ said Clark. “We’ve come together as a team more this year than any other. Our communication is great, we’re getting better shots, and we’re putting the puck in the net.’’
Her play caught the eye of UMass Boston coach Colleen Harris.
“We noticed Mackenzie last year at the Chowder Cup in Boston and coach Martucci said she’s one of the best players he’s seen,’’ said Harris. “Her game speaks for itself with the points she’s accumulated, and we’re excited that she’s coming.’’
Clark’s linemate, Chelsey Bartlett, has been a teammate since youth hockey.
“Kenzie back-checks as hard as she skates,’’ said Bartlett.
“We have something to prove this year because when we played Hingham last year in the tournament, we scored and they called the goal back and they ended up beating us [in a shootout]. We know we would’ve been the ones to win it all if we beat Hingham.’’
Winthrop/Lynn can also defend. Gretchen Howard, a seventh grader from Winthrop, has allowed just 22 goals in 13 games in goal.
“We work harder than any team and it’s starting to pay off,’’ said Howard. “If we stay focused and driven, we’ll be back in the tournament.’’
Martucci says his squad needs to bring its “A’’ game every week to make a run deep into the tournament.
“We just need to be consistent,’’ said the coach. “Games are decided on a team’s consistency, and if our girls play with the same intensity, game in and game out, they have a great shot.’’
Lions rebound through defense
After a mediocre 9-9-1 finish a year ago, the Chelmsford High boys have emerged as a legitimate contender, with an 11-4 start through the first 15 games.
“We made a conscious effort of playing better team defense,’’ said fourth-year coach Mike McGrath. “Our kids worked hard and are communicating better this season.’’
The first line, featuring juniors Tommy Bishop and Drew Dawson (30-plus points apiece), has set the tone and has been difficult to play against, according to McGrath.
“Bishop is a skilled dynamic kid, quick as a cat, and Drew is a big power forward who can really fire the puck so they complement each other in that sense.’’
Senior forward David DeDonato, who missed some games with mononucleosis, has also been a factor on the first line.
“Last year we [gave up] over 80 goals and so far through 15 games, we’ve only allowed 36; our kids’ offseason work speaks for itself,’’ said McGrath.
The Lions were eliminated with a 5-4 overtime loss to Billerica in the first round of last year’s Division 1 North tournament, but learned from their mistakes.
“Last year we got to a point where we learned to lose,’’ said McGrath. “This year we are learning to win.’’