Goaltending in hockey is a unique position, as mental as it is physical, and requires total focus at all times.
The primary goalie for St. Mary’s of Lynn, senior goalie Lauren Vaccaro has compiled a 0.93 goals against average for the sixth-ranked Spartans (13-2-2), yielding just 10 goals in 10.78 games.
Following a rigid pregame routine, she has worked hard to earn her No. 1 spot.
Her preparation begins the day before games, with an emphasis on hydration. On game day, Vaccaro has an egg and cheese sandwich on a bagel for breakfast before watching game film to prepare. Once at the rink, she stays to herself, listening to the same playlist in the same order while putting on her equipment outside the locker room, always right side before left.
“I’m very superstitious,” said Vaccaro. “Because the position is so mental, you need to stay positive. Trying to be positive helps the mental side so it’s easy to stay focused.”
A Lynnfield native, Vaccaro began playing high school hockey with the Peabody/Lynnfield co-op, but struggled to earn ice time her freshman year. The tumultuous season behind, Vaccaro made the difficult decision to sit out her sophomore season in search of transfer opportunities.
During that time, she worked with North Andover’s Steve Mastalerz , a four-year player at UMass Amherst who is now a goaltending coach for the Northeast Generals, a Tier II junior program.
Her play improved and she decided to transfer to St. Mary’s for her junior year and became the starter.
“I wanted to take a year to find out where I was with hockey,” said Vaccaro.
She has played goal since 2011, when she became fascinated with the position in watching Tim Thomas lead the Boston Bruins to their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. Along the way, she has developed her own style.
“She’s tremendously consistent,” said St. Mary’s coach Frank Pagliuca . “Her confidence has grown tremendously, too, and she’s been spectacular in our biggest games.”
The 2011 Bruins also inspired current Hingham senior Leah White to put on the pads. She dons the number 30 after Thomas and was driven to change positions by his amazing playoff run.
But unlike Vaccaro, White isn’t as rigid in her routine. She plays catch with a teammate before each game to sharpen her hand-eye coordination, and taps her stick against the post frequently.
“I’m not so superstitious,” said White. “I usually don’t think about it. I tap the post with my stick to see where I am in the net, it helps me feel around.”
As for Westwood senior captain Caroline McDonough, her role model was her neighbor, Siobhan Burke, who led the Wolverines to the MIAA Division 2 title in 2014.
“I really enjoyed the aspect of being in that role,” said McDonough. “Goaltending has taught me a lot about resilience and some important life lessons.”
McDonough has her own pregame routine.
Listening to Bohemian Rhapsody, the senior works with tennis balls in the hallway, finishing with 10 catches on each hand. She puts on her equipment left side first and steps onto the ice leading with her left skate.
As a four-year starter, McDonough is hoping to follow in Burke’s footsteps as a state champion. The Wolverines are 12-1-3, a testament to McDonough and her 1.42 goals against average.
“Year after year she’s been great,” said Westwood coach Ed Amico . “We pride ourselves on being a good defensive team and a lot of that comes from knowing Caroline is back there.”
Boston Latin sophomore Ellen Linso also has her own in-game ritual to build her confidence. The third-year starter describes herself as the type of goalie who likes to tap the post with her stick as well.
“Before the period starts, I have to be in the ready position at puck drop,” said Linso. “If I’m not, I feel like something bad could happen. A big part of goaltending is the focus on confidence.”
Enjoying her best season, Linso recorded her eighth shutout over the weekend, 4-0 over Wayland/Weston, and ranks top five in EMass in both goals against average (0.87) and save percentage (.960). Her passion for playing goalie and her love for her team has dictated that success.
“I take every shot as if it decides our season, even at practice,” said Linso.
“She is focused, always wants me to shoot on her in practice,” said Boston Latin coach Tom McGrath. “She took being eliminated in the tournament last season personal and is playing with confidence.”
While confidence is key for goaltending, so is resilience and mental toughness. Methuen/Tewksbury junior Kaia Hollingsworth has attributed goaltending to shaping her mental toughness both on and off the ice.
“Being a goalie, you have to be really mentally tough,” said Hollingsworth. “We just have to keep looking forward. If one gets by you, you can’t think back on it. If you do, you won’t be ready for the next one.”
Consistency has been key for Hollingsworth, who surpassed 100 career games played this season. In five years as a starter, she has a career 1.50 GAA with more than 2,000 saves. But despite the pressure that comes with the position, Hollingsworth knows that to be a goalie, one must be fully dedicated.
“People always say [goalies are] crazy,” said Hollingsworth. “But it’s something that I always look forward to, I always try my best. It’s just what I love doing.”
■ The Framingham girls’ hockey team will host the Inclusion Cup Tournament, Feb. 19 and 21 at Loring Arena, with proceeds going to the You Can Play Project.
“I think that it needs more awareness and it’s growing every year,” said Framingham first-year coach Casey Diana .
“It’s something that we can really get behind. At a high school like Framingham, there’s so much diversity. We have kids of all different backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations.”
“It really just shows that you’re welcome with us, regardless of who you are. If you can play, you can play.”
The field: Framingham, Matignon, Fontbonne, and Beverly.
■ Masconomet senior captain Abby Gendron became the second player in program history to reach the 100-point plateau, joining 2006 graduate Lizzie Chapman (her 167 total points are still a program record).
Gendron reached the mark with a two goals and an assist in the Chieftains’ 3-2 victory over Peabody last Saturday. With 44 points this season, she is 4 away from setting the single-season scoring record.
“She’s always looking to make the right play,” said Masco coach Ryan Sugar. “She’s an overall great player and it’s a great accomplishment.”
Games to watch
■ Friday, Westwood vs Needham (at Daly Rink, 8 p.m.) — Division 2 leader Westwood faces a late-season challenge against the 18th-ranked Rockets.
■ Saturday, Falmouth at Notre Dame-Hingham (at Rockland Arena, 3:40 p.m.) — The Clippers have been surging and look to play spoiler on the road.
■ Sunday, Shrewsbury at Austin Prep (at Stoneham Arena, 4 p.m.) — In a matchup postponed from January, the Colonials are looking to make a late-season surge against top-ranked Prep.
■ Monday, Norwell at Pembroke (at Hobomock Arena, 2 p.m.) — The Clippers have rattled off 10 wins in 11 games, including an earlier matchup with Pembroke.
■ Tuesday, Braintree vs Arlington (at Pilgrim Arena, 4 p.m.) — The Wamps take on the upstart Spy Ponders at the Hingham Showcase.
■Tuesday, Duxbury vs Westford (at Pilgrim Arena, 6:30 p.m.) — In another Hingham Showcase matchup, the Grey Ghosts are looking to get back on track against unbeaten Duxbury.Dan Shulman can be reached at email@example.com. Jenna Ciccotelli also contributed to this story. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.