Entering this season, the spotlight was on Woburn. The Tanners topped the girls’ hockey preseason rankings and were predicted to be a powerhouse, led by Kayla Smith.
And that’s why the Woburn girls’ locker room has a sign that reads: “Ignore the noise.’’
With four shutouts to start the season and 36 goals scored in eight games, the hype surrounding the Tanners was no surprise, especially after beating St. Mary’s, 5-0, a feat the Tanners had been waiting for for years.
“I remember scoring each goal and it was the years building up on our shoulders and we finally got it off,’’ said Smith.
St. Mary’s had defeated Woburn in the 2009 and 2010 state championships.
“We’ve gotten wrapped up in all the noise outside the locker room and have to stop being concerned about what people think about us,’’ said Tanners coach Bob MacCurtain.
The Tanners have fallen into a midseason lull, letting losing to Belmont, 3-2.
“I don’t look it as pressure but motivation to not lose our rank and goal of winning the league and states,’’ said Smith.
Despite the loss, the Tanners remain the top-ranked team in the Globe Top 20, with its biggest competition, Hingham, slipping in the rankings.
The Tanners are looking to go all the way, and in order to do that, MacCurtain has toughened practices.
“I’ve been a little harder on them with the level of competition they bring. It’s a grind and the kids are really working out there,’’ said MacCurtain. “We had a lull and we’re trying to get back.’’
The Tanners’ offense starts with Smith on the first line, leading the team with 13 goals and nine assists. The junior is looking to enhance her play with college around the corner.
“We have to change our focus before everything we do and develop our own type of skill,’’ she said. “I try a lot harder because I’m getting older.’’
Smith brings a different level of play after four years of experience on a boys’ hockey team.
“It’s how she’s wired and the pace of the boys’ game that makes her a successful athlete,’’ said MacCurtain. “All the players that have played the boys’ game have been the best we’ve ever had because everything’s so fast.’’
Her swiftness, physical gifts, size, strength, and hockey sense make her a dangerous scoring threat.
“As long as she continues to be focused and play hard, the sky’s the limit,’’ said MacCurtain. “Other teams are aware of her and our team knows she’s going to be involved in a lot of offensive plays.’’
With the loss of leading scorer Colleen Martell to graduation, Smith emerged as the offensive threat the Tanners needed to handle top-ranked teams. Smith had 29 goals and 40 assists last year.
“She’s developed and has gotten stronger and faster,’’ said MacCurtain. “She has excellent vision and she notices things that are hard to teach.’’
After falling in last year’s Division 1 state semifinals to Acton-Boxboro, Smith is hungry and has her eyes on states.
Games of the week
No. 13 St. Mary’s at No. 6 Lexington, Wed., 7 p.m. - Each team has suffered a loss to Woburn, but St. Mary’s (6-2-0) has revamped its offense with a four-game win streak, scoring 18 goals. Lexington’s resilient offense should be a test for St. Mary’s goalie Lauren Skinnion (2.00 GAA).
No. 7 Barnstable at No. 3 Duxbury, Sat., 5:50 p.m. - Duxbury is on a seven-game unbeaten surge, but will be challenged by Barnstable, which suffered its only loss to Hingham.
No. 15 Braintree at No. 10 Dedham, Sat., 6:15 p.m. - Dedham, which lost twice last week to ranked teams, has strong scorers in Samantha Girard and Colleen Downing, and it will need them against a solid Braintree squad.
No. 13 St. Mary’s at No. 5 Hingham, Sat., 8 p.m. - Hingham ended St. Mary’s 100-game unbeaten streak in last year’s tournament quarterfinals. Since then, St. Mary’s has struggled against quality teams, losing to Hingham and Woburn.
No. 12 Chelmsford at No. 4 Acton-Boxboro, Sat., 8:10 p.m. - Acton-Boxboro has shown its mettle by taking down Hingham and Fontbonne.