The Braintree girls’ hockey team skated to a 17-5-1 finish last season without a single senior on the roster.
The campaign ended with a 5-3 Division 1 quarterfinal loss to an Austin Prep squad that advanced to the state final.
This season, the Wamps return their entire squad, along with a talented freshman class clamoring for playing time in what could be a historic season for the program.
“The juniors knew they came out tentative and nervous [against Austin Prep],” recalled Braintree coach Kevin Burchill.
“We came out in the third period and started playing Braintree hockey. That game will carry with us for this season.”
This year there are nine seniors, all of whom have played together since age 12. Six occupy the top six slots on first two lines, headlined by the trio of captains Abby Holland, Ally DeCoste, and Delia Lee. A returning Globe All-Scholasic, Holland paced the Wamps in scoring (29 goals, 14 assists), DeCoste returned to her hometown team after two years at Phillips Exeter, and Lee has completed a transition from defense to forward.
On the back end, seniors Mia Zaniboni and Elizabeth Connolly have skated as a pair since eighth grade. And in net, captain Ellie Foley has won the starting job once again.
“Coach Burchill has basically built this program up from when we were 6 years old,” said Holland. “Having everyone back has helped everyone. It’ll be easier for us to play off one another.”
Depth is key for Braintree.
The roster through preseason consisted of five forward lines, four defensive pairs, and three goalies, though not all will play during the season. But the balance allows Burchill to be creative.
“Not many teams can roll with three strong lines, but I feel my third line could match up with any other top line around the state,” said Burchill. “My third line had 12 goals last year. That’s the most I’ve seen in 19 years of coaching.”
In a 6-0 season-opening win over Brookline, six players factored in the scoring. Special teams (two power-play goals, one shorthanded tally) were also key.
“That third period against Austin Prep, we played confident as a bunch of town kids against prep school players,” said Holland. “The main message this year is to pick up where we left off. There’s pressure, but so many of us think we can win.”
Braintree has circled two home games – Austin Prep on Jan. 29 and Wellesley on Feb. 5. Burchill believes this stretch of the season, which also includes a road matchup with Walpole in between, will represent proving ground for the Wamps.
“I want to be at least one game better than we were last year,” said Burchill. “I won’t mention it to the girls, I don’t want to mention it, but we all know our goal is to get to the Garden.”
In Division 2, Winchester was in line to follow a similar script with just one senior from last year’s tournament team set to graduate. But a trio of transfers to prep schools on the offensive end could be costly.
Fortunately, the top defensive pairings and a goaltending tandem all return this season. After dropping its opener to Notre Dame (Hingham), 3-0, Winchester righted the ship with a 5-1 win over Watertown on Saturday.
“I was looking forward to having a really good year, but it’s a step in the right direction for us,” said Winchester coach Craig Seabury. “We have a lot of young players returning but just not a lot of playing experience. That’s going to take a little while.
“We’re still going to win games, it’s just how we do at the end.”
As the 16th seed in the D2 field last year, the Sachems nearly stunned No. 1 Walpole before falling, 2-1 in OT.
“We’re always a tough out in the tournament no matter who we play,” said Seabury. “We’re not under the radar coming into it because of our expected returners, but now people might be saying, ‘What’s wrong with Winchester’ until they see what kind of team we are.”
■ The MIAA is experimenting with a pilot a 4-on-4 overtime during regular-season games this season. Games that head into overtime will count in the standings as a tie, though the overtime period will be played as an informal way to prepare for postseason play.
A number of coaches are happy with the experimental format, while others range from indifferent to utterly opposed.
“I think it’s fabulous,” said Westwood coach Ed Amico. “It’s only one period, not two periods with 3-on-3 or a shootout. It’s great because that’s how it goes in playoffs.”
“It’s an OK idea,” added Wellesley coach P.T. Donato, whose Bay State Conference is not using the format this season. “We practice it, but there’s a greater risk of injury and I’m just concerned that an overtime loss, even though it doesn’t count as a loss, can be tough on a team.”
■ Austin Prep grad Hanna Aveni made her first start for the University of Southern Maine, recording 22 saves in a shutout win over Salem State. Aveni led the state in shutouts last season with 16 for the Cougars.
■ Methuen/Tewksbury and Central Catholic played a scrimmage Saturday night in honor of former Central player Ryan Driscoll, who died last year at 16. His sister Jessica, a Tewksbury sophomore, is a forward for the Red Rangers. All proceeds from the event, including ticket sales, basket raffles, and auctions, were donated to the Ryan Driscoll Memorial Scholarship Fund.
“It was really great to just remember Ryan, honor the family, and honor Jessica as well,” said Methuen/Tewksbury coach Sarah Oteri. “There was more excitement than there was sadness, and I think that just goes back to the type of person that Ryan was. He brought people together.”
Games to watch
Wednesday, Wellesley vs. Austin Prep (at Matthews Arena, 7 p.m.) — Not many teams came close to beating Austin Prep in the regular season last year, but Wellesley gave the Cougars a tough game on two occasions.
Saturday, Andover at Methuen/Tewksbury (7 p.m.) — The two MVC powerhouses split the regular-season series last season.
Michael “Gio” Giordano Christmas Classic (Dec. 27, at Murphy Memorial Rink) — Boston Latin’s annual Christmas tournament gets a new name in honor of Michael Giordano, a BLS alum who died in October.
St. Mary’s at Peabody/Lynnfield (Dec. 28, 4 p.m.) — Two of the premier Division 1 teams meet in a post-Christmas nonleague affair.
Middlesex/Catholic Central Showcase (Dec. 30, Essex Sports Center) — The best teams in two of the top leagues in northern Massachusetts will each send representatives to a head-to-head style tournament, highlighted by matchups between Arlington and St. Mary’s (4:20 p.m.) and Winchester vs. Austin Prep (6:20 p.m.)
Winchester at Lexington (Dec. 31, 11 a.m.) — The host Minutemen made a statement in a season-opening 12-2 victory over Stoneham/Melrose, but league foe Winchester is focused on defense this season.
Dan Shulman can be reached at email@example.com. Jenna Ciccotelli also contributed.