Strength in numbers? Not for the current edition of the Dedham High girls’ varsity ice hockey team.
With the loss of seven seniors to graduation last year, this year’s squad consists of 11 skaters and one goalie and includes just two juniors and no seniors. The rest of the players are either eighth-graders, or first- or second-year students at the high school.
Familiar surroundings? Not for Dedham’s young skaters, not this year. Instead, the team has moved from the Bay State conference to the Tri-Valley League, a conference which includes co-ops like Medway and Ashland and even larger combines like Medfield, Norton, Holliston, and Millis.
“It’s hard to play these co-op and combined co-op teams,” said sixth-year coach Christine Gurskis. “Some of these teams are combined with three or four schools, so we need to make adjustments because we lack bench players, and the other teams have the depth.”
Enough bad news? Not quite: Then came the loss of a key athlete. All-around skater Kassidy Hickey suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this year.
“Kassidy is a strong player on offense and defense,” said Gurskis. “That really hurt us because we had low numbers to begin with. Her presence on the team is truly missed. A lot of girls had to step it up and bring their all to the ice.”
Given this confluence of obstacles, it should come as no surprise that through games of Feb 3, the team stood fifth in the Tri-Valley League with a record of 5-9. It would have to win five of its next six games to qualify for the Division 2 state tournament.
Talk about long shots.
Still, said their coach, the players have dealt with the hand they’ve been dealt with determination.
“They have this never-give-up attitude,” said Gurskis. “They get knocked down, but always get back up.”
Two of the girls who stepped up when Hickey went down were junior co-captains Bridget Crowley and Donna Shevory. The duo are leading by example, according to Gurskis.
“They love to compete on a such a high level,” said Gurskis, “Neither one of them [is] hugely vocal, but they lead by example. It is great from a coaching perspective that I have them for another year.”
Crowley, a center, isn’t new to the ice, as she has been playing since she was eight years old. Now 16 and a part on the varsity team since the 8th grade, she’s the team’s leading scorer this year with 8 goals and 6 assists.
“Crowley is a first-line center,” said Gurskis, “She always wants to go out there and is always ready to compete. She just rallies the team to keep pushing away and is a great player for the youngers girls to look up to.”
Crowley takes her captain’s position seriously.
“I always try to work to my fullest potential,” Crowley. “Even though most other teams have larger numbers, I know that we have the talent to go out and win some games.”
The other junior, Shevory, also plays a pivotal role for the team. After goaltender Isabelle Gentile graduated last year, the critical position was empty. Gurski asked for volunteers to mind the net, and Shevory gladly took the position even though she’d never served as goaltender before.
“Donna Shevory took the time out to practice during the off-season to become this year’s goalie,” said Gurskis. “She is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team. If you’ve seen her in front of the net, you would have never thought she just started playing as a goalie in her junior year.”
Shevory took shots from the Dedham boys’ youth team over the summer and in the fall, and she also worked with clinics to help her transition into the role.
“I had to work really hard to switch from forward to goaltender,” said Shevory. “It is such a different and unique position. But it was worth it in the end. I actually grew to like the goaltender position rather than a forward. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
With time winding down on what’s been a challenging season, the players are looking forward to coming back next year with more maturity and strength.
“I think our team will come back stronger next year,” said Shevory. “We are getting used to being a smaller squad, and we are learning how to save our energy and utilize each player efficiently.”
“The girls often miss the small steps and cannot see the great improvement that they have made,” said Gurskis. “I have seen how far we have come. It is definitely promising from a coaching perspective, and I’m definitely happy with the performance so far.”Andrew Higginbottom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.