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Girls’ hockey notebook: At Notre Dame Academy, an aggressive system of defense has led to offensive opportunities, an 8-4-0 start

Stick salute: Notre Dame Academy-Hingham hockey standouts (from left to right) Maggie Donahue, Ava O'Donahue and Avery Engle have helped the second-ranked Cougars get off to an 8-4-0 start.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

A 2-1 overtime loss to Shrewsbury in the MIAA Division 1 quarterfinals last season left the Notre Dame-Hingham girls’ ice hockey team crushed and unsatisfied.

Off to an 8-4-0 start this season, the Cougars are focusing on the immediate.

“Every game is a journey,” said fifth-year NDA coach John Findley. “If you take every game separately and individual, then you might meet your goal . . . you need to concentrate on the game you’re playing — on the team you’re playing.”

Notre Dame, ranked behind No. 1 St. Mary’s (14-1-0) in Tuesday’s MIAA Division 1 power rankings, has a strong Division 1 win against No. 10 Pope Francis (8-3-1) and wins against strong Division 2 programs, including No. 9 Canton (10-2-2), and No. 19 Pembroke (8-5-1). But with three one-goal losses, the Cougars need to clear one hurdle — beating the opposing goalie when it matters most.

“We need to get more pucks to the net … we can’t depend on our goalie stopping every puck,” said Findley. “We’ve done a decent job there, but we need more balanced scoring.”


Seven of NDA’s eight wins have been decided by three or more goals — the only exception being a tight 1-0 victory over Hingham.

‘Those girls always put themselves in good spots on the ice.’

Notre Dame (Hingham) girls's hockey coach John Findley, on his team's attack led by Ava O'Donahue, Sarah Francis, and Morgan Brady

The attack is driven by senior captain Ava O’Donahue (16 points), junior captain Sarah Francis (13 points) and sophomore Morgan Brady (12 points).

“Those girls always put themselves in good spots on the ice,” Findley said. “[They’re] always around the puck, always making heads-up plays.”

A defenseman, Francis feels responsibility to step up offensively if the opportunity presents itself.

Notre Dame Academy girls' hockey John Findley (right) chats with Lucy Delgallo (left) and Sarah Francis (center) before the start of a recent practice at The Bavis Ice Arena.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

“It’s a team game, and everyone always has to be contributing,” Francis, a Scituate resident, said. “Someone’s got to do it, so I’m happy to fill in there.”

On the varsity since eighth grade, Brady is determined to make more of an impact.


“I know I have to step it up for the younger kids,” Brady said. . “The younger kids have been playing their souls out . . . Our seniors have shaped the team . . . and [that’s] a goal of mine — to be like that.”

NDA’s success is dependent on a system that demands every player be alert in each of the three zones.

“We play a very aggressive system,” Findley said. “We always make sure we have a forward and a defenseman back. It makes the girls that play [defense] more aggressive, and it makes the forwards understand they have a responsibility in the defensive zone.”

Notre Dame Academy girls' hockey coach John Findley engages in a stretch with his players before a recent practice. Findley lauded his team's 8-4-0 start to their aggressive approach on defense. "“We play a very aggressive system. We always make sure we have a forward and a defenseman back," Findley said.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The scheme was implemented with the input of Findley’s daughter, Martha, a former All-American at Saint Anselm who is now an assistant coach at NDA.

“Having that third forward high and having a deep back helps us win the game defensively,” Francis said. “When we play the system, and play it well, it helps us play tight in the back and create as many offensive opportunities as we can from the defensive zone out.”

Findley anticipates ups and downs and is preparing his girls to do the same.

“The girls have to understand that . . . in hockey, there’s winners and losers. You have to understand that just because you lose a game doesn’t mean you lose in the sport, and I think the girls understand that,” he said. “You just have to compete. I don’t mind if we lose if we work hard, if we lose and compete — that’s the difference.”


Ice chips

▪ The Whitman-Hanson/Silver Lake co-op enters the final month of the regular season at 8-3. And that win total is noteworthy given the makeup of the roster.

There are eight eighth-graders on their roster, and not a single senior.

Despite the youth, Whitman-Hanson/Silver Lake is on a four-game winning streak, including an impressive 1-0 shutout of high-scoring Norwell on Saturday.

“They beat us earlier in the year,” said Colin Foley, who co-coaches the team with Kristy Kennedy. “We impressed upon the girls that they could win this game if they had good practices and give their best effort.”

Sophomore Chloe Duff scored the winner, and freshman goalie Sadie Watchorn earned her third straight shutout in the victory. Foley credits junior captain Caitlin Dilley for her help getting the team on the same page.

“A lot of this is timing, now that everyone is getting up to speed at this point in the season,” said Foley. “Our captains and upperclassmen are helping us get rowing in the same direction.”

▪ Andover (9-2-2) is undefeated in its last six games, but second-year coach Meagan Keefe doesn’t want her team to look back.

“Our strategy has been taking it one game at a time,” said Keefe. “We know that each team has their many strengths, and you can not go into any league game thinking it’s an automatic win based off their record, or what they have been like in previous years.”


Led by a strong group of upperclassmen, including nine seniors, the experience of the older players are helping the remainder of the team through the loaded MVC/DCL schedule. One of that group is junior Rose Memmolo, who scored the winner in a 2-1 overtime victory against HPNA on Sunday.

“[The upperclassmen] set a great example, bringing the energy and intensity every day,” said Keefe. “We also have a strong group of underclassmen that are eager to learn from the upperclassman, and they come ready to work.”

▪ It was a banner weekend for MIAA goaltenders. Belmont’s Bridget Gray eclipsed the 2,000-save mark in a 3-0 loss to Burlington. In a shutout victory over Brookline, Milton junior goaltender Lila Chamoun recorded her 1,000th career save, and her Bay State counterpart Mikal Franklin reached the same milestone for Framingham in similar fashion, netting a shutout versus Weymouth.

Games to watch

Wednesday, Medfield at Norwood (at The Skating Club of Boston, 5 p.m.) — A December 17th meeting between these Tri-Valley foes produced a scintillating 1-1 tie.

Wednesday, Winthrop at Peabody/Lynnfield/North Reading (at McVann-O’Keefe Memorial Rink, 5:15 p.m.) — Winthrop took home a 3-1 victory when these squads met on Dec. 28th, but PLNR is rolling and has not lost a game since.

Wednesday, Milton at Braintree (at Zapustas Rink, 6 p.m.) — The top slot in the Bay State Herget hangs in the balance. Braintree handed Milton (10-1-3) its only loss of the season on Dec. 14th, a 1-0 decision.


Saturday, Lincoln-Sudbury at Waltham (at Veterans Memorial Rink, Waltham, 5 p.m.) — Waltham fell 3-0 to the Warriors on Jan. 11th, but the Hawks are 3-0-1 since that meeting and have scored a whopping 18 goals over that span.

Saturday, Duxbury at Archbishop Williams (at Canton SportsPlex, 7:40 p.m.) — It’s a battle of two unbeatens in this Division 2 instant classic with playoff implications.

Correspondents Kat Cornetta and Olivia Nolan contributed to this story.

Julia Yohe can be reached at julia.yohe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliacyohe.