When the final horn sounded, members of the Bishop Feehan girls’ hockey team poured off their bench last week at the New England Sports Village in Attleboro, celebrating their 3-1 victory over Oakmont Regional.
Four weeks into the season, the program’s first varsity campaign, the coaches and players embraced with wide smiles and exclamations of “Finally!”
Less than two months earlier, nearly half of the girls on the Shamrocks’ inaugural 26-player roster had never played the game, let alone skated competitively.
But for Feehan and Nantucket, another first-year girls’ program, success is not measured in wins — the former is 1-9, the latter 0-5 — but rather on how quickly the teams have gained traction.
With a strong foundation of players and support, the response has already been positive, even though the scores sometimes are not.
“It’s hard to be a first-year program, no matter what sport you start you’re going to lose,” said Bishop Feehan athletic director Christian Schatz.
“The more programs that develop and the more girls that have the opportunity to play, the better hockey gets. The growth of these sports is fantastic.”
The Shamrocks team was formed out of a girls’ skating club started two years ago by Alana DiPlacido, currently a junior captain for Feehan, and others.
The club met three mornings a week, allowing girls to learn the basics of skating and stickhandling without the pressure of competition.
“The only thing I didn’t like about Feehan was that there wasn’t a hockey team because I wanted to play in high school,” said DiPlacido, a Walpole resident.
“From the beginning, there was an attitude that it wasn’t going to happen. But we just kept at it and by last year, we were talking about making it a varsity team.”
Previously, as a faculty advisor to the club, Schatz had skated with the players. When he was hired as AD prior to the 2019-20 school year, he felt it was paramount to go varsity immediately.
He credited DiPlacido, along with fellow captains Lucy Armour (Norfolk) and Kate Franzosa (Norton), for being advocates.
At the helm is Mike Cripps, formerly the boys’ hockey coach at Attleboro High.
“A lot of the people that knew [Cripps at Attleboro] there said he did a really good job of teaching the basics and connecting with the kids,” said Schatz. “The interest has kind of exploded . . . ”
Over 30 players attended tryouts and no cuts were made, but a practice squad was formed to help new players continue their development.
“We don’t worry about the scoreboard, just about the progress we made both individually and as a team playing together and getting more comfortable,” said Cripps.
At Nantucket, the interest was generated by the underclassmen. With a high number of girls in the eighth and ninth grades playing hockey, the time was right for the Whalers to go varsity.
“It took us a few years,” said coach Liz Collins, who won four straight state titles as a player at Duxbury High.
“There was a lot of convincing the athletic department and upperclassmen who used to play to come back, but it’s rewarding to see these girls put in the work.”
Haleigh Johnson, who had played club hockey through her freshman year before joining the swim team as a diver, decided to lace up the skates as a senior.
“Looking back, I should have kept at it,” said Johnson, now a captain.
“From the first day of practice this year to now, we are so much better already.”
Her sister, Lydia, is one of 10 eighth- and ninth-graders on the roster.
Nantucket, much like at Feehan, has a young team that includes a few girls who had never played the game before. And with the remoteness of island life, Nantucket parents often travel to the mainland for games and make runs to sporting goods stores to get supplies for the players.
Nantucket’s athletic department and tight-knit sports community has also been supportive, donating equipment for all the players, even the goalies. Equipment issues, however, can be a problem. Earlier this season, Collins had to disassemble her own helmet during an intermission to make a quick repair for one of her players.
“All our goalie equipment was donated and we got everything we needed from the athletic department,” said Collins. “Parents travel with us to games and make runs to stores for essential items like tape, sticks, and other equipment.”
There have been other challenges for both fledgling squads.
During the first week of practice, players volunteered to play goal, freshman Avery Blanchard for Feehan, and junior Shea Harnishfeger for the Whalers.
Both have continued to show signs of improvement. Blanchard was one bad bounce away from a shutout in Feehan’s victory over Oakmont; Harnishfeger was named an assistant captain for her selflessness in learning a new position.
“[Blanchard’s] got natural ability and we also got the boys’ coach to come over because he’s coached goalies before,” said Cripps. “She’s getting extra one-on-one lessons at the rink as well, so she just took it upon herself — she wanted to learn.”
A win for Feehan is quite an accomplishment for a program in its infancy, but the Shamrocks and Whalers share the ultimate goal of continuing to improve individually and, most importantly, as a unit.
“Since the first practice, we can sense the development and it definitely is the future of the program,” said Armour. “Each practice you can see more team bonding, which is strengthening our play in the games. Even though there’s a score difference you can definitely see speed improvement.”
■ Westwood coach Ed Amico said his team is full of girls who are willing to step up in more than one way. On Saturday, the Wolverines stunned previously unbeaten Canton, 4-1. On Sunday, 10 members of the team prepared, cooked, and served brunch to 125 underprivileged women at Rosie’s Place in the South End.
“They are an incredibly hard working and fun group who plays the game the right way and have a passion for hockey and being there for each other and others,” Amico said.
■ Framingham senior Georgia Parker became the first Flyers player to eclipse the 100-point mark in a decade, according to coach Casey Diana . Parker, a team captain, registered a goal and an assist in Wednesday’s 6-4 loss to Weymouth.
■ Former Methuen/Tewksbury star Julia Masotta was moved up to the top line for Norwich University (11-4-1), which is ranked eighth nationally in Division 3. She marked the occasion with two goals and an assist in a 5-1 win over Plymouth State, garnering Rookie of the Week honors in the New England Hockey Conference.
Games to watch
■ Wednesday, No. 2 Austin Prep at No. 5 Wellesley (at Wellesley Sports Center, 7 p.m.) — A rematch of last month’s one-goal thriller, can the host Raiders avenge the loss and claim a heavyweight victory over the Cougars?
■ Saturday, Matignon at Notre Dame (Hingham), 2:15 p.m. — Two teams hitting their stride at the midway point of the year meet up in a nonleague contest.
■ Saturday, No. 14 Masconomet at Shrewsbury (at NorthStar Ice Sports, 6 p.m.) — The host Colonials are making a push for a spot in the Top 20 while the Chieftains are just hoping to stop their current slide (1-2-2 in their last five games).
■ Saturday, No. 17 Waltham at No. 11 Methuen/Tewksbury (7 p.m.) — The Hawks have been defensively sound this year, but so have the host Red Rangers.
■ Saturday, No. 9 Boston Latin at No. 15 Andover (at Breakaway Ice Center, 6 p.m.) — It’s a challenging week for the Wolfpack, looking to prove they belong in the conversation for title contenders, as are the host Warriors.
Dan Shulman can be reached at email@example.com.