Colleen Downing , a senior captain, and Sam Girard , her junior linemate at Dedham High, find each other during games, always aware of where the other is headed.
In practice, they huddle together between drills to create new plays. Afterward, they nearly complete each other sentences.
“We are like a married couple,” Girard joked.
The two have been playing on the same line since Girard’s freshman year. The two clicked instantly, they say, and have been together ever since.
They knew each other before then too, playing on one team or another since elementary school. At Dedham High, they play field hockey, softball, and ice hockey together.
But this will be their last year as teammates.
“I don’t like thinking about it,” Girard said of playing without Downing next season. “It’ll be a huge change, I think.
“Our tempo is just different and it’s hard to click with.”
It has also been hard to contain.
In 14 games, Girard has tallied 23 goals while Downing has put up 11 goals and 15 assists, leading the Marauders to a 9-4-1 start.
Girard’s greatest strength is probably the slapshot the 5-foot-9 forward is never afraid to unleash. She also is full of energy, the loudest player in practice, and the first to dive on the ice to keep a puck in the zone.
At 5-foot-6, Downing is more of a puck-handler and a quiet leader who sets the tone with her play. She said her senior year has been emotional.
“It stinks because every time I go out there, it’s the last time I’m playing this team or the last time being here, and it’s sad,” Downing said.
The beginning of the season was even harder for her, as Dedham opened at 2-3-2.
“We started to lose at the beginning and we thought we were going to mess it up,” Downing said. “We came in thinking we were going to be really amazing but we didn’t know what we were doing out there.”
The team’s slow start came on the heels of a season-ending 2-2 tie with Ursuline Academy last year that left the Marauders out of the postseason for the first time in recent memory.
“As hard as it was to tie Ursuline, I knew the message would stick with them and make them think, ‘We don’t want what happened last year to happen,’ ” coach Christine Gurskis said. “When you put on the Dedham jersey, there is a lot of pride and respect, and they need to step up and play for their family and their school and their town.”
Current players on the team just need to look to assistants Kara Kelly and Christina Sweeney , who reached the state title game as players for the Marauders, to see signs of Dedham’s past success.
Girard and Downing hope to take the team back to those heights, and freshman goalie Gloria Bilafer has made that path more manageable.
The veteran players had heard about Bilafer, but did not know how good she really was. They have been impressed since playing in front of her over the summer.
“Oh my God, that was clutch for her to come in,” Girard said. “She makes it look so easy.”
“She is amazing,” Downing added. “Whether it looks like she is trying or not, she makes every save.”
Bilafer (1.54 goals-against average) has kept Dedham in every game. Each of the team’s four losses has come by just one goal.
“I knew she had talent. I just didn’t quite know how much,” Gurskis said. “She makes goaltending look easy and nothing really rattles her.”
Bilafer’s presence has also helped in practice, Girard said. The goalie is always willing to stop a shot between drills, and the challenge of scoring on her in practice has helped all the skaters improve their shooting in games.
After Bilafer sends away one of Girard’s shots, the junior forward consults with Downing, drawing up a play as they often do during downtime in practice.
“They mostly fail,” Downing admitted. “But we try.”
Now, Girard and Downing have just a handful of games together remaining.
Girard hopes to make the most of them.
“I’d like her [Downing] to end with a good year,” Girard said. “I don’t want her to end with us not playing as well as we could.
“I want that for her.”
Xaverian seeks finishing touches
In its final Catholic Conference game this season, Xaverian Brothers appeared poised to notch its second league win as it entered the third period up, 4-0. But Catholic Memorial came storming back and the Hawks were only able to hang on for a tie that left them 1-3-4 in conference play and 7-3-6 overall.
“We’ve just given away five games in the last eight minutes to the last minute,” coach Dave Spinale said. “We just want to finish out games and be mentally tough.”
Spinale added that he was happy to see his team be more competitive in league play this season (they were 1-5-2 last year), particularly his top line.
Through the league schedule, he watched senior captain Antonio Marini of Hanover, junior captain Tim Sweeney of Hanover, and sophomore Jon Beniers of Abington show their ability against tough competition, tallying 32 of the team’s 68 goals.
“The top line has been impressive and they’ve proven they can compete in our league and play at a high level,” Spinale said.
Fontbonne girls right the ship
After starting the season at 2-6, Fontbonne Academy has battled back into playoff contention, entering the week 6-7-3 after tying Hingham, Notre Dame of Hingham, and Ursuline Academy last week.
Coach Bob Huxley credited a 3-0 win over St. Mary’s of Lynn on Jan. 23 as a spark for his squad, which entered the week having not lost since Jan. 18.
“Now they believe,” he said. “They believe that they can go out and play anybody.”
Huxley said senior captains Madison Devine of Walpole and Shannon McIsaac of Avon were crucial in keeping the team positive early on. They have also contributed on the ice: Devine leads the team with nine goals and McIsaac has accrued five goals and 10 assists.Jacob Feldman can be reached at email@example.com.