Kelly Golini wants to play her final high school game at TD Garden.
Skating for the Methuen-Tewksbury co-op girls’ hockey team, the Tewksbury High senior is dazzlingly quick with the puck, controlling it precisely with rhythmic taps that mimic a snare drum. She dances to the unpredictable music she makes, leaving defenders dizzy in her wake.
“Everyone knows when Kelly Golini is on the ice,” said Methuen-Tewksbury coach Sarah Oteri. “People pay extra attention to her and play her harder, and she’s able to get through that and get 200 points.”
As a seventh grader, Golini made an instant impact on a team that had just been formed, contributing 28 points at the varsity level. Her team made a Cinderella run in the Division 2 state playoffs as the 20th seed, scoring a combined 20 goals in three wins en route to the semifinals.
“I still think about it, it was so unexpected,” said Golini, who will play at Saint Anselm next year. “A team of misfits, two towns that are rivals usually, playing on the same team and making it to semifinals is kind of insane, especially for our first year.”
That was probably the last time anyone slept on Golini and the Red Rangers. They’ve won the Merrimack Valley/Dual County Conference small title every year since 2014 while posting an overall record of 65-10-7. Last year’s conference MVP with 45 goals and 27 assists, Golini has only gotten better.
“She’s always been a natural goal scorer,” said Oteri, who played at UMass Amherst. “Her whole game has really come together senior year where she’s a threat in every zone.”
Besides scoring, the 5-foot-4-inch, 130-pound center is winning faceoffs, backchecking, and doing whatever she can to help the team.
Riley Cote is another senior captain from Tewksbury who has been on the team since it began. She mentioned Golini’s quick shot and excellent stickhandling, but said her true strength is as a vocal and positive leader.
“She’s a really good person, and I like playing with her,” said Cote. “She definitely brings something else to this team with her friendliness.”
Golini is mature but funny, serious yet lighthearted. She adapts her attitude to the demands of the situation.
“Kelly is a riot,” said her friend and teammate, Cassidy Gruning, a junior from Tewksbury. “She knows when to joke and she knows when to be serious. She’s a good captain, a good leader.”
Gruning and Golini met playing for the Boston Shamrocks, an elite junior team. “The competition was really high level,” said Gruning. “I think it helped us both get a lot better.”
“I got to travel a lot of places to play hockey,” said Golini. “That was a really cool experience, but I like being here, playing for my town. It means more to me personally.”
Things were personal for Golini and her teammates ahead of their matchup with Notre Dame Academy on Dec. 23. The perennial Division 2 powerhouse Cougars bounced Methuen-Tewksbury from the tournament the last two years by a combined score of 13-3.
About a minute after Notre Dame tied the game at one, Golini decided to untie it. She deked her way across a rink full of defenders and buried one, giving the Red Rangers a lead they would not relinquish on the way to a 4-3 victory.
“It was Kelly Golini at her finest, going end to end and scoring a really nice goal,” said Oteri. “Beyond that, it was Kelly being a leader, saying, ‘You know what? They’re not gonna stay tied with us. I’m gonna go back and get one to put us back in the lead.’”
After the game, Golini was already talking about the next opponent. Methuen-Tewksbury moved up to Division 1 this year, as did all teams that combine players from multiple schools. The Red Rangers also moved up to the large section of their conference.
“It’s definitely harder competition, but we’re enjoying it,” said Oteri. “Every game is a battle, and that’s what you want.”
Methuen-Tewksbury never made it to the final in the Division 2 tournament, but Golini is determined in her senior season.
“I think this is the year,” she said. “We’ve come so close way too many times. If it’s the end, then I want to win. I don’t want to go out in a semifinal game or a quarterfinal game, I want to go out at the Garden.”Tom Petrini can be reached at email@example.com.