By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Region – Their leading scorer is but a freshman and the team relies at times upon its backup goaltenders who, as seventh and eight graders, are many months away from entering high school. The 2015-2016 roster consists of just four seniors and the entire blue line corps is comprised of underclassmen. Players come from four different schools stretched across Worcester County raising the question of how well can a geographically-divided squad coalesce into a cohesive unit.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster?
Not for the Shrewsbury High girls’ varsity hockey team that is quietly putting together yet another solid season on ice. The team raised its regular-season record to 7-4-2 (Central/West) with a 2-0 blanking of Auburn High at Westborough’s North Star Forum on Jan. 27. The win inches the team closer to its goal of qualifying for post-season competition with seven games remaining in the regular season.
“Defensively, we’re really strong. We don’t give up a lot of goals,” explained eight-year head coach Frank Panarelli, who is assisted by Ray Monroe. “Everyone gets along very well no matter what school they come from. It’s always a work in progress bringing new girls in but they seem to blend right in. Hockey’s a small world. There’s always a lot of kids that play with each other or against each other in their club teams so they pretty much know each other.”
Panarelli has coached the team since its inception eight years ago and has guided the program to post-season competition in each of those years. A number of his former players have gone on to compete at higher levels, a tribute to the program’s success.
Eighth-grade backup goaltender Riley MacCausland recorded her first career shutout versus the Rockets recording 13 saves in the victory. Team-leading scorer Delaney Couture (sixth overall leading scorer in Central Mass. with 21 points), a freshman, snapped home a pair of goals within the first two minutes into the matchup to provide all the scoring that would be needed before the defense and goaltending took charge.
“Riley got the game puck tonight. This was her first career shutout,” said Panarelli of his netminder’s performance. “Our senior goalie (Delia O’Connor, 16 games, 0.909 save percentage) gets most of the playing time. But we put Riley in there tonight and she gave us a great game. She kept us in the game. They had a couple of real good chances and she did wonderful.”
All four starting defenders for the Colonials are sophomores. All have coalesced to form a solid blue line nucleus that is currently strong and projects to be into the future. Lily McManus, Kylian Kelly, Abby Cossette, Karli Desouza and others have more than done the job, said Panarelli.
“If the defense is weak it kind of impacts the whole team so we try to get the rest of the team up and going and fired up,” Desouza explained. “We all work hard and need to keep doing that and play our game.”
“This wasn’t one of our strongest games mostly because we couldn’t get any passes off to our wingers because they weren’t open most of the time and we were all over the place positionally,” added McManus. “I think we as defense could have been stronger but we wound up with the win and that’s what counts.”
Players coming from four different schools (Shrewsbury, Westborough, Wachusett Regional and St. Peter-Marian) as a co-op program can sometimes be problematic, but not so this group, said Panarelli. The cohesiveness has been there from day one.
“We know a lot of the other kids from club teams so that makes the camaraderie better,” said Cossette. “I think we have a good mix on offense and ‘D’. We have good chemistry.”
“We’re a young team but we’re a team and a family so it’s a nice vibe,” echoed Kelly. “Everyone gets along and I think coming from different schools can bring us together actually.”
The 2015-2016 Shrewsbury High girls’ varsity ice hockey team consists of seniors Ashley Ljunggren, Karlie McLear, Kelsie Flynn and Delia O’Connor along with juniors Campbell Brown, Megan Moran and Peyton Brown.
Underclassmen chipping in are sophomores Kaitlyn Corcoran, Samantha Ljunggren, Kylian Kelly, Lily McManus, Georgia Wildung, Karli Desouza and Abby Cossette as well as freshmen Lauren Moran, Dolly Herlihy, Delaney Couture, Grace Coughlin and Jenna Krikorian. Goaltenders Riley MacCausland and Nora Frederick are eighth and seventh-graders, respectively.
Flynn is team captain while Ashley Ljunggren, Megan Moran and McLear are assistant captains.