The 2016-17 season ended abruptly for the Masconomet Regional girls’ hockey team.
Seeded 18th in the Division 1 tournament after securing a spot on the final day of the regular season, the Chieftains knocked off No. 15 Quincy/North Quincy (6-1), No. 2 Beverly/Danvers (5-4, SO), and No. 7 Austin Prep (3-1) before being denied by No. 3 Woburn, the eventual state champion, 2-1, in overtime of the state semifinals.
“The motivation last year was let’s see how far we can go, let’s be the underdogs that upset everybody,” said second-year Masconomet coach Ryan Sugar of last year’s 12-9-3 finish. “This year, it’s more of let’s prove that it wasn’t a fluke, prove to everybody that we belong here.”
Ranked seventh in this week’s Globe Top 20, the Chieftains (10-3-1) won’t be sneaking up on any team again. Their 5-2 win over Marblehead last Wednesday clinched the Northeastern Conference crown with six games to spare — the first league title in program history. With an opportunity to improve its seed, Masco is out to prove that it has as good a shot as any program to win the state title.
“I hadn’t even realized at first that it was Masco’s first, which is crazy to know,” said senior captain Kate Irons . “Though there were times where certain teams have a reign over the title for a few years at a time, that this could potentially be the start of something for Masco, to have their reign over the NEC, which is great.”
The Masconomet Regional co-op, which in addition to six from the host school also includes players from Newburyport High (8 players), Triton Regional (5), Georgetown (2), and Amesbury (2) high schools on the roster, is not going to wow anyone statistically.
The Chieftains sit in the middle of the pack in both goals for (44) and goals against (24). But they have shown the innate ability to win big games, be it a 3-1 victory over No. 6 Duxbury in December or a 4-1 win over No. 19 Haverhill in January.
Senior captain Sami Kelleher leads the squad with 14 points — certainly not a high total for a team with 10 wins — and sophomore Molly Elmore has been solid in net with a 1.60 goals against average and .933 save percentage.
“Our biggest strength this year turned into depth,” said Sugar, who has six skaters with double-figure point production. “As a team, they’re putting the points together. It may not be one girl with a 40-, 50-point season, but I’ll take five girls that are going to put up 15, 20 points each.”
Irons, who attends Georgetown High, credited the team’s depth up front and on defense, with both returnees and newcomers contributing.
“There isn’t a person out there who is not doing their part,” said Irons, who has recorded six goals and four assists this season. “Everyone is working really hard to contribute to the entirety of our success, whether they put up points or not.”
Beverly/Danvers controlled the Northeastern Conference the past few seasons, but a large graduating class from last year’s 17-2-3 finish has resulted in a 4-10-1 record this season, opening the door for Masco.
Masco got a jump start with last year’s shootout win over Beverly/Danvers in the D1 tourney.
“Beverly has been the dominant team in our league for the past few years, so to be able to not only beat Beverly, but to knock them out of the tournament, that I think is what got the ball rolling,” Sugar said. “We’re stronger than last year, depth-wise, and the girls see that. I guess the momentum from last year just kind of carried into the beginning of this season.”
The Chieftains knocked off two of their preseason goals — winning the conference and qualifying for the postseason — in one game. Now, they can shift their focus toward the tournament.
But there are still measuring-stick games ahead: a rematch Wednesday against Beverly/Danvers, and a matchup against third-ranked Tewksbury/Methuen in the Newburyport Bank Ice Hockey Classic on Feb. 20.
“The goal is to just keep getting one step closer, keep being at a top level every game so that we can be prepared for what the playoffs are going to bring and potentially get a better seeding,” Irons said. “My earlier years on the team, we always would joke around about ‘Road to the Garden’ and stuff like that. But last year, that became real. It became an actual possibility.”
■ Senior goalie Colleen Kelleher continues to lead the way for 10th-ranked Canton (10-1-3). A returning Globe All-Scholastic for the Division 2 runner-up, Kelleher registered her 20th career shutout this season, and recently hit another major milestone.
In a 1-0 win over Hingham, Kelleher recorded the 1,500th save of her high school career.
“She’s allowed us a lot of time to gel as a team, and create a system that works for us. A system focused on defense-first,” said coach Dennis Aldrich.
Facing nearly 20 shots or more each game can be daunting for some teams. But having Kelleher and a solid defense means the Bulldogs can take more chances up the ice.
When Kelleher joined the squad as a freshman, Aldrich knew his program had a game-changer.
Canton had gone 3-16 the season before her arrival. The Bulldogs are 45-21-15 since.
“She’s really helped us make this transition from where we were,” Aldrich said. “It’s no small part for what’s she’s done for our program.”
From a team of 17 players in the program to fielding a 38-player roster, the Bulldogs will continue to rise.
■ Top-ranked Austin Prep (15-0-1) and No. 2 Woburn (15-0-1) are the two remaining unbeaten teams in EMass . . . Woburn senior Georgie Santullo (27 goals, 13 assists this season) recently reached the 150-point mark for her career . . . Fifth-ranked Notre Dame-Hingham snapped Duxbury’s 10-game unbeaten streak with a 3-2 win over the Dragons.
Players of the week
Molly Burns, Natick — The junior scored the winner for the Redhawks with under a minute left in a 3-2 victory over Algonquin/Hudson.
Kayleigh Butler, Westford — With a power-play strike, the junior’s goal was the difference in a 1-0 win over Billerica/Chelmsford.
Mackenzie Heath Archbishop Williams — In a 6-0 win over Arlington Catholic, the junior scored a hat trick and helped ABW qualify for the state tournament.
Melissa Strauss, Needham — The junior goalie picked up her fifth shutout of the season, making 20 saves to blank No. 6 Notre Dame Hingham, 2-0.
Games to watch
Wednesday, Needham at Braintree, 5 p.m. — Two of the top teams in the Bay State Carey face off in Randolph.
Wednesday, Winchester at Reading, 7:45 p.m. — Should be a good game on Pink the Rink night in Reading.
Thursday, Andover at Westford Academy, 4:30 p.m. — This game could be a defensive battle in Groton.
Saturday, Notre Dame Hingham at Austin Prep, 4 p.m. — The top-ranked Cougars from North Reading take on the fifth-ranked Cougars from Hingham.
Saturday, Westwood at Dennis-Yarmouth, 6 p.m. — A match between two high-powered offenses.Correspondent Lenny Rowe also contributed to this story. He can be reached at lenny.rowe@globe. Dan McLoone can be reached at email@example.com.