Natalie Flynn understands the importance of camaraderie and how fostering that bond translates into success.
In her senior year at Arlington Catholic, the Cougars won the 2012 MIAA Division 1 girls’ hockey championship. Flynn went to co-captain the women’s team at Boston University, where the Terriers won a pair of Hockey East championships in her time from 2013-17.
Those conversations held on a bus ride before a game or while lacing up skates in the cramped confines of a locker room can help transform teams into champions, Flynn said.
Now in her second season as head coach at her alma mater, Flynn has to get creative to make sure a team with 14 returners doesn’t lose its cohesion in this socially-distanced era of living. She’s diagrammed plays in hallways to give players more space to separate, and those bus and locker-room chats are nonexistent.
AC had three coaches during Flynn’s four-year varsity career, so one of her priorities is to make sure the team feels like a team, especially in a season in which being apart is standard operating procedure.
“Just being in the locker room, it’s a huge part of hockey and where your memories are made,” said Flynn, a Medford native. “It’s where a lot of your camaraderie is built. I want people to feel a part of the team whether they have two shifts or 20 shifts.”
So far, her approach has worked.
Arlington Catholic is 2-1 following Wednesday night’s 5-1 loss to Catholic Central League rival St. Mary’s, after opening the season with impressive wins over Archbishop Williams (5-2) and St. Joseph Prep/Mount Alvernia (7-1). And with a pair of experienced goaltenders who will share time in net, senior Quinn Mustone and junior Emily Moran, there is optimism for what will be an abnormal, abbreviated season.
“Basically all of our new players are really contributing a lot this year. Our first line just seems to be meshing really well in practice and in our first two games, so it’s awesome that they can put some goals on the board for us,” Flynn said.
Junior Maggie Milne, who centers the Cougars’ first line, recorded a hat trick in the opener against Archbishop Williams and freshman left wing Kathleen Simmons (3 goals, 1 assist) scored twice against St. Joseph Prep/Mount Alvernia on Monday. There’s depth on the second line, too, led by junior Grace Shanahan, a transfer from Burlington who also netted two goals on Monday.
Senior captain Mary Cate Flynn (no relation to her coach) also sees the offense jelling in a way that makes it easier to distribute scoring across the top two lines. She’s also comfortable with helping Simmons develop as a scorer. Two years ago, she played on the same line with Simmons’s older sister, Molly.
“After the first two games, we kind of got a grip on where the other person likes to be on the ice and how we can use that to our advantage,” said Flynn, who skates the right wing on the top line. “I think this year we can spread out a little more. We have our first line, but our second and third lines have helped us make a really good team.”
Despite the lack of team building every girls’ hockey program playing through the COVID-19 pandemic has experienced, AC is positioned to have one of its strongest seasons in recent memory. The Cougars last reached the postseason in 2016, losing to Austin Prep in the Division 1 state final. Arlington Catholic strongly believed the drought would have ended this season, before the pandemic altered another season. Last season, the Cougars (9-11) were one win shy of a postseason berth.
“I think the team is all a little upset because we would have loved to bring this team into the playoffs, but we’re going to go as far as we can in the CCL Cup,” said Mary Cate Flynn, a Melrose resident. “We all thought at the end of the season, ‘next year’s going to be our year.’”
Maybe it still can be. The Catholic Central Cup is scheduled to start Feb. 17 and AC enters the upper echelon of its league schedule next week, with another game against St. Mary’s on Jan. 6 and perennial CCL and state champion contender Austin Prep on Jan. 9. The season feels different, but the end game is still the same.
“We obviously want to have a winning season and do well, but at any time, any game could be our last,” Natalie Flynn said. “We were really hoping to make it [to the postseason] this year, but we have to make new milestones, I guess, for ourselves.”
▪ Matignon, which finished 9-11 in 2019-20, pulled off a surprising 3-1 win over St. Mary’s in its season opener on Monday. Alexa Kim, Molly McConnell, and Lizzy Greeley scored for the Warriors. The loss was the Spartans’ first in the regular season since Feb. 18, a 2-1 nonleague defeat against Needham. St. Mary’s defeated Matignon in both meetings (3-1 and 4-0) last season.
▪ Austin Prep, the reigning Division 1 co-champion (with Woburn) will open its season Saturday against Catholic Central rival rival St. Mary’s. But this season’s AP team has a very different look. Graduation claimed Globe Super Teamer Francesca Frelick (10-13—23 in 2019-20), who is playing softball at Duke. And Monique Lyons, who put up 42-22—66 totals as an 8th grader, is now playing for Williston. But coach Stephanie Wood still has the same approach that led to a one-loss season a year ago.
“We have the same philosophy that we always do,” Wood said. “We’re trying to have a great experience, we’re trying to have a lot of fun.”