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High School Hockey

St. Mary’s, Westford girls’ hockey teams leaning on experience

St. Mary’s of Lynn goalie Lauren Skinnion and her teammates prepare to take the ice for a recent game against Winchester. The Spartans are defending Division 1 state champions.

Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe

St. Mary’s of Lynn goalie Lauren Skinnion and her teammates prepare to take the ice for a recent game against Winchester. The Spartans are defending Division 1 state champions.

A number of teams are shooting to add to their legacy. Others are fighting to create one.

In the state tournament, every team starts with a clean slate.

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How does a team respond to the challenge of competing in a one-game season?

Win and move on, or lose and go home. And in most cases, playoff experience matters.

The St. Mary’s of Lynn girls are the defending Division 1 state champions. But at 10-6-6, the Spartans entered Wednesday night’s preliminary round matchup against Hingham as the 15th seed in a 24-team field. The two teams played to a 2-2 draw in the regular-season finale last week.

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Frank Pagliuca’s team may have more experience than a year ago, with 10 returning players, but consistency has been an issue.

“Mentally we haven’t been ready to play and that’s cost us a bit this year,” said the St. Mary’s coach. “We have to focus on coming out to a strong start.”

‘It’s time to button up your chin strap, put your mouthpiece in, and be ready to go to war.’

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And in the tourney, there is a sense of urgency. “If you don’t come to play, your season is over,” he said. The intensity ramps up in practice, “focusing on all the little things, translating good practices into game situations.”

His goalie, three-year starter Lauren Skinnion , said playing “in that type of venue with that much pressure and that many people watching is just a special experience to go through.

“As you play more tough games, they don’t become easier, but you just become more confident,” she said. “Other teams might panic in close games, but we feel comfortable.”

Pagliuca said that it is important for players to keep emotions in check, “especially throughout the day building up.”

Westford Academy (11-7-2) has 17 players back from last year’s run to the Division 1 semifinals.

A year ago, the Grey Ghosts were one win away from taking on St. Mary’s for the state title at TD Garden.

“We remember that feeling of walking out of the locker room and getting on the bus after that loss,” said Westford coach Todd Fletcher , whose club took on Needham in a preliminary round game on Tuesday night.

“It’s time to button up your chin strap, put your mouthpiece in, and be ready to go to war,” he said. “You have to have that mentality because it’s like a heavyweight fight; it’s how you counter.”

Westford senior captain Lindsay MacDonald said it is important to keep a steady head in an electrifying environment.

“We can coach them knowing that they’ve been there; they’re not surprised by anything, especially the buzz,” Fletcher said.

Woburn coach Bob MacCurtain , whose Tanners lost to St. Mary’s in the semis last season, said he believes that the experience alone does not make or break what happens in the tourney; it’s what players learn from the experience.

On occasion, older players may overthink the big stage; younger ones may just go out and play.

“When the puck drops, all those things that happened before are out the window,” MacCurtain said. “You’re in that game at that moment.”

Reading (14-3-3), the seventh seed in Division 1, is back in the tourney for the second straight year. Coach Mike Golden’s squad returns the majority of the players from last year’s team, but, as he noted, “we still haven’t [won yet].”

“We have to stay on an even keel with everything that’s flying around you at 100 miles an hour,” said Golden, whose squad kicks off its tourney quest Saturday, hosting the Austin Prep-Masconomet Regional winner.

“We may not be the best, but we can play with anybody.”

Reading sophomore forward Tori Grimmer admitted that her team had a lot of the “jitters” during last season’s early playoff exit, and that other, more experienced teams may know how to handle desperation better.

But that does not faze Grimmer and fellow sophomore Ali O’Leary , her line mate.

“We’ll use that as motivation,” Grimmer said. “We’d like to get more experience to feel more confident and know what it’s like.”

Less experienced squads, like Winchester, who have seniors that have never advanced past the first round, will rely on the “playoff-like atmosphere” games played against top teams from the rigorous regular season.

The Sachems, seeded 11th in Division 2, played eight games against Division 1 tournament teams, along with matchups against Division 2 heavyweights Westwood and Burlington.

Coach Craig Seabury said he believes his tough regular-season schedule will pay dividends on the big stage.

“Just to recognize how we have to play, how physical [other teams] are,” Seabury said. “The talent, speed, and pace they play at compared to us; sometimes you’re just not ready for it.”

“[Our team] can still gain confidence with the way they’ve played this year; that’s how we’ll make up for it.’’

In the end, the tournament will test teams’ abilities and experience.

“That’s what makes it exciting; on any given day, any team can win,” said Pagliuca.

Season to remember for Amanda Conway

This has been a record-breaking season for Amanda Conway , a junior center for the Methuen-Tewksbury co-op program.

Entering the regular-season finale against Andover, she had tied Canton High standout Brittany Lyons (2008) for the state’s single-season scoring record with 60 goals.

Conway went on to tally a hat trick in a 3-1 victory, establishing a new mark with 63.

“I had no idea what to do; I was just like, ‘Did that really happen?’ ” Conway said, describing her first reaction after blasting the record-setting goal in the first period.

“I’m just really happy; I can thank all of my teammates for helping me get there,” she said.

Coach Arianna Rigano “wasn’t really surprised” about Conway’s feat, having witnessed her lead the state with 52 a year ago.

“That’s hard to break,” Rigano said. “It’s a big deal. Just kind of shows how skilled of a player and great of a goal scorer she is. Leading up to that, she’s been playing well all season.”

Methuen/Tewksbury (19-1-1), the top seed in Division 2, will host the winner of the Wayland/Weston vs. Sandwich matchup Saturday at 5.

Joseph Saade can be reached at joseph.saade@globe.com.
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