The Reading Memorial High girls’ hockey team won just three games last season, the culmination of a three-year stretch in which the Rockets fizzled, winning a total of 16 games.
The last time the program qualified for the state tournament, an eight-win season in 2009-10, Reading was eliminated in the first round.
Current seniors Delaney Albert and Heather Toussaint skated on that eight-win team three years ago. Junior Sarah Hart has never played in a tournament game.
“They’ve really reminded a humble group how far we’ve come,” said Michael Golden , in his fourth season as Reading’s head coach. “They were on the wrong side of a lot of close games for the past couple years. But if you just stay in the fight and believe in your talent and your ability, you can end up on the right side of the scoreboard.”
And that’s exactly what the Rockets have done, racing out to a 13-3-1 start this season, with the influx of a talented collection of freshmen — firstliners Ali O’Leary and Tori Grimmer, defenseman Caroline Siebold, and starting goaltender Kayla St. Pierre — providing a turbo boost.
O’Leary, with a team-leading 26 goals and 43 points, is “one of the handful of dynamic players in high school hockey,” said Golden.
She centers a line with Grimmer (who “any other year would be your sensational freshman,” Golden noted) and sophomore Rachel Thomson, who have accounted for 38 goals, over half the team’s offensive production.
“Ali knows how to put it in the back of the net,” said Hart. “We all feed off her.”
Despite the terrific offensive production, the Rockets are where they are because of their sound play at the defensive end.
It starts in net with St. Pierre (four shutouts), who Golden said hasn’t had a bad game all season. His captains agree.
“Without Kayla St. Pierre we would be lost,” said Albert. “She’s mentally and physically a good goalie. She inspires us all, because she stays in the game. When we have a bad game, she doesn’t. We owe so many of our triumphs to her, and would be nowhere without her.”
And then there is Siebold , the quarterback of the defense. She attributes much of her success on the ice to growing up playing against her siblings, sophomore twins Michael , who plays for Reading’s varsity boys’ team, and Danielle , a teammate on the varsity girls.
“She’s a coach’s dream,” said the coach.
“She controls the pace of play. You can earmark a forward that needs attention defensively for her, and she’s really good moving the puck. She might be the best defenseman that I’ve had in the four years that I’ve been here.”
With the influx of the young talent, however, how does a coach, or a captain, manage egos, playing time, and attitudes?
Because of the Rockets’ struggles, a number of the current sophomores and juniors logged a great deal of playing time the past couple of seasons. Then add in the freshmen to the mix.
The transition has had its fair share of growing pains, such as letting lesser teams stick around and not putting games away early, like rival Woburn does. But, Golden noted, that’s “part of being young.”
The captains have really stepped forward as leaders. Before the season, Golden set goals for his team, goals that were drilled into the younger girls by the captains every day.
Before every game and after the pump-up music and speeches, the captains quiet the locker room and encourage the players to reflect on what they need to accomplish.
Then, each player cites her personal goal for the game – “something we all keep in our mind during the game,” according to Albert. Finally, the captains give everyone a team goal they can accomplish together. Then, they go out and accomplish it.
“We’ve beyond exceeded the goals coach set at the beginning of the season,” said Albert. “He had to write new ones.”
For all the players, this season has already been very special.
After the struggles of the past few seasons, they know they’re still underdogs and relish the role. Some teams make the playoffs every year, but if there’s one thing Reading has learned, it is to value every opportunity.
“We haven’t made the tournament since I’ve been here,” noted Hart. “So now it’s a really big deal and we play every game our hardest.”
Reading boys’ squad lines up Super 8 bid
As successful as the Reading girls have been this season, the school’s boys have played just as well. With a 14-1-4 record and the 11th-best RPI in the state, the team has Super 8 aspirations, but ultimately the players know all they can do is play the best hockey they know how, day in and day out.
Led by captains Rob Devaney, a forward and the team’s leading scorer, and Evan Morelli, the starting goaltender who has posted five shutouts this season, the Rockets are in prime position to make noise in the postseason, regardless of which tournament they make.
“We’re always stressing in our room the importance of humility and working hard,” said coach Mark Doherty. “There’s no shortcuts. If we keep playing well, I’m looking forward to the tournament.”