In its fifth season as an independent program, hard work has been the mantra for the Pembroke girls’ hockey team.
The Titans have thrived not solely on talent, but on heart, effort, and desire.
Initially, Pembroke shared a co-op agreement with Whitman-Hanson for six years. But since the co-op ended, by mutual agreement —
with Whitman-Hanson now teaming up with Silver Lake — Pembroke has continued to flourish.
With a 5-3 victory over Notre Dame-Hingham last Friday, Pembroke earned its first win over NDA, netted its 70th overall win since going solo, and climbed back into the Globe’s Top 20.
“In a nutshell, its unselfishness and everybody working together,” said seventh-year coach Bill Flynn.
“The girls wanted their own team and they’re making it work however they can.”
Pembroke has benefited from a strong youth program and support from the community.
Flynn recalled a moment four years ago when many members of the current team attended a varsity game to acquaint themselves with the program.
“We have a good nucleus of talent at all grades,” said Flynn. “The younger girls have stepped into leadership roles and the girls before put the program in the right position.”
An 11-1-2 start this season was not expected by Flynn, or his players, particularly with just 12 skaters and a pair of freshman goalies on the roster. Despite the low numbers, Pembroke still manages to field a balanced lineup in which every player contributes.
Senior captains Carly Birolini, Nikki Rinkus, and Emily McCabe have been instrumental in instituting a family atmosphere.
“Because we’re so young, our focus is on making everyone feel more involved,” said McCabe. “Our team is very close this year, we all get along so well. Unlike in past years, everyone is involved.”
A four-year varsity player, McCabe, shifted to defense for the first time this season. She volunteered to make the move after the graduation of the team’s top four defenders. She has been Pembroke’s best player on the blue line.
Each closing in on 100 career points, Birolini and Rinkus have combined for 34 goals and 17 assists. “We weren’t expecting much at the start,” said Birolini. “We’ve really proven ourselves and shown how far we have come.”
Team-bonding has long been a big part of Pembroke’s success. As important as it is to build relationships on the ice, doing so off the ice is what draws the team closer.
“We did a lot of preseason things coming into the year,” said Birolini. “We’ve had pasta parties, gone to breakfast, and watched our next opponents play on LiveBarn together. There’s been a lot of laughs.”
Pembroke earned MIAA tourney berths in each of its first four seasons and has qualified again this season. Its postseason history includes two Division 2 quarterfinal losses in 2016 and 2017.
The latter was the Titans’ best season, concluding with a record of 19-1-2. “We watched ourselves get too comfortable two years ago,” said McCabe. “We need to work harder than the game before and not get too cocky or lazy by thinking we’re the best.”
This year’s senior class is determined not to let history repeat itself.
With hard work comes reward. The Titans earned their first victory over Notre Dame-Hingham and captured the Judy Gormley Classic Championship in December with wins over Plymouth and Bourne.
“They give it everything they’ve got every time they touch the ice,” said Flynn. “Everyone contributes, its all about the girls and they just want to be pushed harder everyday.”
■ Wednesday night’s showdown between Methuen/Tewksbury, ranked second in this week’s Globe Top 20, and No. 3 Andover has been circled on the calendar by both teams since their first meeting on Dec. 18.
Andover (12-0-1) blanked M/T, 3-0, the lone defeat for the Red Rangers (11-1-1) this season.
“It is a big game for us,” said Andover coach Kevin Drew . “It’s a big game for them, too. We don’t want to be too hyped for a game. It’s one game in a 20-game schedule. We’ll stay focused. If we play our game, we’ll be OK.”
Methuen/Tewksbury coach Sarah Oteri was a four-year player at Andover (Class of 2010) and served as the Golden Warriors junior varsity coach for two seasons before joining the Red Ranger program in 2015. Oteri is 1-1-2 against Andover.
“It brings back a lot of memories for me,” Oteri said. “But my heart is in this locker room now.”
■ What has been the key to Franklin’s hot start this season? Just a group of players who love the game.
“[The start] wasn’t on my radar at all,” said Franklin coach Margie Burke. “No one is trying to outdo anyone, they’re all just having a good time playing.”
The Panthers skated to an 11-1-1 start, which has only served as motivation to play harder.
Burke has kept the team focused by dividing each game into a best-of-three format. “We have this mentality where we’re doing the best of three,” said Burke. “Our first three games, we got all three, and now we’ve broken it down to the best of three periods.”
■ With a 3-0 win over Archbishop Williams, Austin Prep senior goalie Hannah Aven i recorded her 27th career shutout – breaking the school record of 26 set in 2016 by Caty Flagg .
“There’s a full team of troopers behind her that help to make that all happen,” said AP coach Stephanie Wood. “She’s a really great kid, not very fixated on individual awards. She’s very deserving, and she’s had a great career at Austin Prep so far.”
Games of the Week
Wednesday, Duxbury at Braintree (at Zapustas Arena, 5:30 p.m.) — In a nonleague matchup, the fifth-ranked Dragons put their unbeaten record on the line against ninth-ranked Braintree.
Wednesday, Andover at Methuen/Tewksbury (at Methuen High Rink, 7 p.m.) — The Red Rangers’ only loss this season was a 3-0 defeat to host Andover on Dec. 22. Can they return the favor at home?
Friday, Wellesley at Notre Dame-Hingham (at Rockland Arena, 5:40 p.m.) — On Friday, the Cougars look to move above .500 against ranked opponents when they take on Wellesley.
Saturday, Arlington at Reading (at Burbank Arena, 7:45 p.m.) — With the Rockets in danger of dropping out of the Top 20, they face a tough test against the visiting Spy Ponders.
Saturday, Braintree at Walpole (at Rodman Arena, 5:20 p.m.) — Another Top 20 battle for the Wamps, this time a rematch on the road against BSC rival Walpole. Braintree won the first meeting, 4-1.
Sunday, Longmeadow at Masconomet (at Valley Forum, 1:40 p.m.) — While the Chieftains have been teetering above .500, the Lancers have a few surprising wins under their belt and are surging toward a postseason berth.