Cohesive defensive pairings drives Masconomet into state semis
By Dan Harrison Staff writer Mar 11, 2017
There is no substitute for good chemistry.
Teams need just the right level of cohesion to make a big playoff run, and in the sport of hockey, successful defensive pairings need to gel in order to lock-down against the talented forwards, who are more and more explosive the deeper a team makes it into the tournament.
For the Masconomet girls, the two go hand-in-hand.
The Chieftains have pulled off an impressive postseason streak, winning three games en route to Monday’s Division 1 state semifinal against Woburn. One of the ingredients at the top of the list of coach Ryan Sugar’s formula for success is the effort and execution of his blue liners.
“Our defense has a lot of great chemistry,” said senior Rachael Duval, who is paired up with senior captain Madi Brooke as Masco’s top tandem. “We’ve gotten to learn how our partners play and where the pucks are going. A huge part of defense is knowing your partner really well.”
So how well do Duval and Brooke know each other?
Considering the two girls have been playing hockey together since the age of eight, there aren’t many things that can happen on the ice that the duo isn’t prepared to handle together. It was a pass across the point from Duval to Brooke that led to one of the goals against AP, and in the shootout against Beverly, Sugar called on Brooke to take one of the five attempts and the senior lit the lamp.
The two Masconomet schoolmates were named Northeast Hockey League all-stars with all-league honors going to Duval.
“We’ve literally grown up playing hockey together,” Brooke said of playing with Duval. “I know Rachael so well. I know everything about her game and she knows everything about me. We know each other and where we’re going to be.”
Along with the great chemistry, preparation has been vital in terms of knowing the tendencies of opposing teams and their top forwards. Whether it’s who has the most dangerous shot, or where a certain forward is likely to carry the puck, Duval, Brooke and the rest of the girls on the back end know their opponents inside and out.
A big part of the strategy is keeping the middle of the ice clean and clearing rebounds away from the crease area after freshman netminder Molly Elmore makes the initial save; which is something she’s done time and again during the playoffs.
Executing the game plan comes down to smarts and effort, and with seniors like Duval and Brooke, there is nothing the girls won’t do to get the job done.
“Especially for us seniors who have never made it this far, knowing every game could be our last 45 minutes on the ice is definitely a big motivation for us,” said Brooke. “All the underclassmen feel it too … To be able to be underdogs and beat all these teams no one thought we could beat as an 18 seed is bringing us all together.”
As for the other D pairing Sugar has been rolling with, Triton sophomores Riane Vatcher and Anna Behringer as well as Triton freshman Gianna Conte have been mixed and matched, and whatever grouping Sugar goes with, it’s been working brilliantly.
The team allowed just one goal against Quincy before beating No. 2 Beverly and then holding defending state champion Austin Prep to just a goal in Tuesday’s 3-1 triumph.
“Rachael and Madi are probably the most dominant defensive pair in our league. They’re both big players who can skate, move the puck and shoot,” said Sugar. “Riane plays on the second pair rotating in Anna and Gianna. Riane has a ton of speed and Anna and Gianna are two, solid defensemen. Those three right there are our future for the next year or two as well.”
Nobody in the locker room is thinking beyond Monday evening in Woburn.
Well, that isn’t entirely true. Playing in the TD Garden, which is where the state final will take place, is too alluring a prospect not to pop into the Chieftains’ minds.
“I’ve been talking about this with my dad for three days. Making it to a final in the Garden would be a dream come true. Every time I talk about it my cheeks get swollen and I start smiling,” said Duval. “It would be historical for us as a team to make it to the Garden and prove seeds are truly just numbers. And Masco girls hockey is something to talk about. I think it would be enormous for us as a program.