By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Westborough – So much was in their favor when the Shrewsbury High (SHS) girls’ varsity ice hockey team faced off against perennial rival Leominster High on March 2 at NorthStar Ice Sports in the opening round of the State Division 2 Tournament.
The Colonials had defeated the Blue Devils twice during the regular season (2-1, 4-0). Leominster (8-4-5) came into the matchup ranked 19 compared to 14 for Shrewsbury (11-6-3). Shrewsbury was able to unleash Central Mass. third-leading scorer Delaney Couture (26 goals, 12 assists) against Leominster freshman goaltender Shelby Guinard in what appeared to be a decided offensive advantage.
In the contest, the Colonials outshot their opponent by nearly a 4-1 ratio (31-8) and the matchup was on Shrewsbury home ice to add to the optimism.
But what Shrewsbury learned all too painfully is that any team can beat any other team on any occasion, particularly in playoff hockey when everything begins anew. If the puck takes a wrong bounce or two or an opposing goaltender has the hot hand, anything goes as was the case with Blue Devils edging their opponent, 2-1, in a nail-biter that was not decided until the game’s final minutes.
“I told the kids to keep their heads high because we should have won the game but we didn’t, but that’s how the hockey Gods work sometimes,” said SHS head coach Frank Panarelli, who has coached the team since its inception eight years ago and has guided the program to post-season competition in each of those years. “Their goalie made the saves she needed to make and we missed the net a bit too much. Overall, it was a great effort and I’m proud of the girls, especially my seniors.”
Leominster’s Kristi Anderson would score both Blue Devil goals, her first coming 3:36 into the second period. Guinard would deny Shrewsbury on countless shots-on-net, some from in close and others bullets from the point. The score remained 1-0 until Shrewsbury’s Lily McManus snapped home a rebound with 7:49 remaining in the game. Assists were credited to Karli DeSouza and Couture.
The game appeared to be heading in the direction of overtime until Anderson found the net once more scoring on a power play with just under five minutes remaining. Shrewsbury battled ferociously until the final buzzer but could not find the equalizer.
“They’re a great team. Frank Panarelli is a great coach,” said Leominster head coach Marc Berube in discussing his opponent post-game. “They’re always in the top of their division. They’ve beaten us a lot over the years. I think our girls get up for playing them. Some of them are friends and it’s a great rivalry.”
For the Colonials, it was an all-too-sudden conclusion of a very successful season, but look for more good things in the future from this squad.
“We have a really young team,” said Panarelli. “We’re losing four seniors but Delaney Couture, our leading scorer, is coming back as a sophomore. There’s growing pains and a lot of these kids tonight are freshmen and sophomores. Down the road, this will be a good lesson for us in that’s the way it works sometimes. It’s hard to lose but it happens.”
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.