When Madelyn Soderquist struck for a pair of goals for the Woburn girls’ hockey team in a season-opening 2-2 tie Saturday afternoon, it offered a glimpse of both a promising future and what had been an uncertain present.
Soderquist, along with five of her youthful teammates, is an eighth grader in the Woburn school system suiting up for a Tanner squad that is the defending Division 1 co-champion.
Their presence, the result of Woburn requesting an MIAA waiver to tap into middle school-aged players for the first time in nearly two decades, has helped preserve a season. Otherwise, the Tanners would have competed with just 11 skaters in an abbreviated campaign which will be full of challenges amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“It was a very, very big change to bring in the eighth-grade group,” Woburn coach Steve Kennedy said. “I guess if there were ever a year it was going to happen, it’s this year.”
The two tallies by Soderquist, scored just more than two minutes apart early in the second half, helped the Tanners earn a point against Middlesex League rival Arlington at O’Brien Arena.
It was the first game for the Tanners since the Division 1 state semifinal last March. The state final against Austin Prep was cancelled three days shy of the matchup at TD Garden, and all 12 hockey teams set to participate were named co-champions.
For Woburn, it was the program’s third title in the last four seasons and sixth in program history. But the recent experiences of both playing and winning on Causeway Street ice did nothing to alleviate the pain of being denied another opportunity, according to the captains of this year’s Woburn team, seniors Kelsey Ficociello, Bella Shaw, Lily Anderson, and Kenzie Russo.
“For me, if anything, that kind of made it worse,” said Ficociello, who tallied two goals and 13 assists last season. “We experienced it, and we knew how much everyone else on the team would enjoy it if they experienced it.”
“That feeling when you’re there, nothing else compares to it,” added Shaw, a forward who posted 7-8—15 totals a season ago. “You want that feeling again. To have it ripped away, it was really frustrating.”
The Tanners will bridge the generational gap between their class of six seniors and six eighth-graders following the graduation of three players, as well as the transfer of talented twins Angelina and Lucia DiGirolamo (88 combined points as freshman) to the Selects Academy at Bishop Kearney in Rochester, N.Y.
“I feel like if we didn’t have this season, a lot of kids that we brought up wouldn’t have gotten a chance to play and maybe wouldn’t have gotten into it as much next year,” Ficociello said of playing with a younger roster. “Getting them to start this year, I feel like it really helps.”
Like most teams, Woburn will play only league foes in the abbreviated season — the fragility of which isn’t lost on either the players or the coach.
Woburn High has been on a hybrid learning schedule since the start of the school year. Kennedy, in his third season after being an assistant under Bob MacCurtain since 2007, said that his team is doing its best to live in the moment, fully aware things could be shut down without warning due to the pandemic.
“I was excited we were able to play even if it was just pushed back a little bit,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who collected four goals and 18 assists playing both defense and forward last season, is the top returning scorer, followed by junior forward ML Pineros (4-17—21), along with Russo (9-11—20).
There will be no MIAA postseason, but coaches and players are attempting to balance being happy to be on the ice while competing at a championship level.
“They want everyone to know that we’re here to have fun and enjoy it,” Kennedy said. “But, at the same time, it is within a hockey context so let’s win, let’s go and compete and play hard.”
▪ Marshfield has been on the ice just seven times since practices officially began — five practices, a scrimmage, and finally a 3-2 win over Cohasset/Hanover on Sunday — after a close contact to the team tested positive for COVID-19 one week before practices started to put them in isolation for 10 days. Now, it looks like that ice will be a clean sheet for a little longer.
Marshfield entered a remote learning period on Monday, lasting until Jan. 15 due to 14 new cases in the school system since New Year’s Eve. Third-year coach Elizabeth Cohen came up with a creative solution Tuesday night as part of their team Zoom sessions to make sure players stay engaged and connected with each other.
“You watch a lot of game video of other people. I made the girls watch the World Junior Championship. I thought it was very important for them to see some high-level hockey,” said Cohen, who also facilitated Zoom practices during the team’s first isolation session. “We also ask a lot of questions and check in on people … this one’s going to be a lot tougher because they have to be on Zoom for school and I don’t know how much they’re going to want to be on video.”
▪ Two second-period goals completed Austin Prep’s comeback for a 3-3 against St. Mary’s Saturday in the Cougars’ season opener. The draw also extended an important run for Austin Prep; the Catholic Central stalwarts are 11-0-2 against St. Mary’s since the start of the 2014-15 season. Junior Isabel Hulse (two goals) and freshman Maddie Vittands provided the scoring for AP.
“The first game of the season is always a little tough,” said Austin Prep coach Stephanie Wood. “Every year is a new year and every team is a new team … just in terms of getting some normal consistency and flow, but especially this year. After the first intermission, it was more or less getting your younger kids calibrated and reminding your upperclassmen that their job is to lead.
▪ Matignon has outscored foes, 12-2, in its first two games, cruising to a 9-1 win over Archbishop Williams Friday, thanks to a hat trick from freshman Lizzy Greeley. Bolstered by a 3-1 win over St. Mary’s on Dec. 28, Matignon’s first victory over the Spartans since joining the Catholic Central in the 2017-18 season, coach Tony Scarpa sees massive improvement from last year’s team that went 9-11 and missed the playoffs by one game.
“Last year, I think the returning players [are] using that as a little bit of fire because it was a tough thing, missing out by one game,” he said. “I think they have what it takes to compete with the teams that gave us a fit last year.”
Brandon Chase also contributed to this story.