At 7-8-5, the Billerica/Chelmsford girls’ hockey team was on the outside looking in at the MIAA Tournament a year ago.
Fast forward a year, and a lot has changed — not just for the world, but for the co-op.
Billerica/Chelmsford concluded a pandemic-abbreviated season with a 3-2 victory over Andover in the inaugural Merrimack Valley Conference Cup Sunday at Tsongas Center.
Though there is no MIAA tournament awaiting, Billerica/Chelmsford (10-1) is proud of this season.
”Obviously everybody wants to make a run at a state tournament, but with the pandemic going on, we’re just happy to play hockey,” said B/C coach Ray Monroe. “There hasn’t been a cup, so we’re the first to win the cup, and the cup’s pretty sick.”
Andover (8-4-1) controlled play early, and got on the board first as Jacqueline Henry scored four minutes in.
Billerica/Chelmsford had its first sustained offensive zone opportunity immediately following, and Julia Williams scored off a pass from Giovanna Gulinello to even the game a minute later. With much of its team without playoff experience, Billerica/Chelmsford was tentative in its play through the first. But goalie Mia Gonsalves came through when it counted.
The Golden Warriors were on the power play in the last minutes of the first, but Gonsalves made four of her 24 saves during Andover’s advantage to keep the game tied. Billerica/Chelmsford started the second period with more pep, and Andover tried to settle things down, with Golden Warriors captain Lilly Reeves making a huge block in the opening seconds.
Shortly following, Andover had another power play opportunity. However, it was Billerica/Chelmsford that struck, with senior Samantha Fantasia scoring a slapper into the top right corner of the net to put her team up 2-1.
”I saw an opportunity to take it and go, so I took it,” said Fantasia. “I saw the top corner open, so I threw it into the net.”
After another Andover shot, Billerica/Chelmsford created traffic in front of the Golden Warriors net, and Remore Serra deflected a shot in to put B/C up by two with 10 minutes left in the second. A minute later, Andover’s Rose Maclean had a chance on a breakaway, but her shot skirted the post.
The Golden Warriors had several chances in the third. Kalli Archambault brought the Golden Warriors within a goal with a tally with 2:30 remaining, but Billerica/Chelmsford’s defense hung on for the win.
Pope Francis 4, Latin Academy/Fontbonne 3 — Junior captain Morgan Peritz helped the Cardinals (4-6-1) close out their inaugural season with a win by scoring the winner with 1:55 left to play. Peritz finished with two goals in the nonleague win at Stoneham Arena. Classmate Mia Alfonso and freshman Lily Hayes each had two assists.
Coach Chris Connors believes the young program is off to a solid start.
“It was an exciting year,” he said. “We had a hard-working group of girls.”
Central Catholic 5, Tewksbury 2 — The skate to a MVC Cup Division 1 title for Central Catholic necessitated the third meeting against Tewksbury in what was an abbreviated 10-game season. Tewksbury took the first, 4-3, then Central answered two days later, on Jan. 29, 4-1.
In Sunday’s final at Tsongas Center, the Raiders ruled again, striking for three first-period goals and building a 5-0 cushion through two periods en route to an 8-1-1 finish.
“We had a little bit of patience, waited for the right opportunity, and took advantage of those opportunities when they came up,” said Central coach D.J. Conte.
Sophomore Sean Gay scored first, connecting on a wrister with 7:22 remaining in the first period. A minute later, after a Central goal was waved off (net off its mooring), senior Nick Peters made it 2-0 as the 6-foot-3-inch defenseman lasered in a puck from the short side.
“He really played his heart out today,” Conte said of Peters.
Then it was junior captain Michael Dinges in the second, followed by senior forward Michael Collett and senior captain AJ Grenier for the 5-0 lead. Sean Lane and Cole Stone scored for Tewksbury (8-2-0) in the third.
Conte took pride in his team’s mental toughness, both from Sunday’s win and the season as a whole.
“The guys stayed mentally strong and focused, had a goal and an agenda, and we met that,” he said. “Not a lot of teams are able to win their final high school hockey game, and the seniors were able to to that.”
Billerica 5, Dracut/Tyngsborough 3 — Behind a balanced offensive attack led by senior defenseman Dominic Hall’s goal and two assists, Billerica (2-3) pulled away late to win the Division 3 MVC Cup at Tsongas Center. Junior Paul Egan added a score in the morning matchup, along with a near-goal that was called back because of an unhinged net.
Coach Jim Egan also gave kudos to sophomore goaltender Ethan Cliff, who made the jump to varsity this season and performed admirably in net.
“Very consistent, very reliable — he just got better and better as the season went on,” Egan said.
Billerica endured four separate quarantines in the abbreviated season and played only five games. But Egan applauded his team, led by six seniors, for buckling down all the way to a tournament title.
“To see them keep their positive attitude, and their strong character, and their willingness to come back to the rink after being out again 8-10 days without skating ... that was the biggest takeaway for me,” Egan said. “That was a big focus of ours. No matter what, when we got back to the rink, we were going to have fun with it.”
Chelmsford 3, Andover 2 — The Lions (4-3-1) got goals from seniors Peter Mitchell, Sean Stackpole and James Hill, then held off the Golden Warriors for the championship of the Division 2 MVC Cup at Tsongas Center.
Andover led 1-0 midway through the first period on a goal from senior Ryan O’Sullivan and was on the power play when Mitchell turned the momentum in Chelmsford’s favor. The captain picked off a cross-ice pass in the Andover zone, skated in alone and scored shorthanded to tie the game at 1.
Just two minutes later Stackpole followed with his goal, jumping on a loose rebound in the slot to give the Lions a 2-1 lead after one period.
Hill, another captain, scored on a bouncing shot from the top of the left circle to push the lead to 3-1 in the second, and while Andover senior Steve Ingram was able to cut into the deficit with a power play goal, Chelmsford and senior goalie Nick Glennon held on the rest of the way. Andover finishes 2-5-1.
North Attleborough 8, Mansfield 2 — Trevor Mooney scored his first two varsity goals and also had an assist as the Red Rocketeers (8-6) closed their season with the Hockomock League win at New England Sports Village. Brady Sarro scored twice and Gavin Arabian also had his first goal for NA.
Rockland 5, Abington 3 — Senior Nick Blonde notched his 100th career points in his final game, finishing with two goals and an assist to lead the Bulldogs (6-5-1) to the South Shore League win at Rockland Ice Arena. Joey Salamone also scored twice for Rockland.
North Quincy 63, Cohasset 57 — Sophomore guard Nate Caldwell drained five 3-pointers on the way to a career-high 17 points, freshman Daithi Quinn added 15 points, and senior Agu Ugwu contributed 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists for the Red Raiders (9-5) in the nonleague win. Senior guard Liam Cunn poured in 19 points for the Skippers and classmate Will Grudinskas had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Peabody 59, Danvers 53 — The Tanners (8-4) finished out their season on top with a Northeastern Conference road win behind 11 points and eight rebounds from senior guard Drew Lucas.
Ethan Fuller also contributed to this story.