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Salem News 2/16/17: Senior defensemen a major asset in protecting house for Masconomet

Kick Saves: Senior defensemen a major asset in protecting house for Masconomet   By Matt Williams

   

  

  

Masconomet senior defensemen Madi Brooke and Rachael Duval have been playing together for more than 10 years, going all the way back to youth hockey.

They’ve been through a lot in their four years on the Chieftains high school co-op squad and coming down the home stretch of their careers they’re looking to make it a memorable finish.

The pair have been lynch pins for a defense that has Masco (8-6-3) one point away from making it to the state tournament. The Chieftains have limited their opponents to two goals or fewer in 12 of their 17 games so far, a credit to the six D rotation and to freshman goalie Molly Elmore.

“Definitely our focus is to keep the opponent out of the house,” said Brooke, who captains the Chieftains along with forward Izzy Sarra. “Don’t let the opponent get shots off, then focus on breakout passes. We want to make sure the passes are crisp; we keep the puck outside and we get it out as quickly as we can.”

Looking to qualify for the playoffs for the sixth straight season, Masco has adapted well to the style of first-year head coach Ryan Sugar. They’re a deep team since they co-op with Newburyport, Triton, Amesbury and Georgetown, so they typically have fresh legs that allow for outskating and outworking their opponents.

“The game plan is dump and chase, dump and chase,” said Brooke, who took to playing defense after her dad, Doug, who patrolled the blue line at Babson College. “We’ve been coming hard through the neutral zone and we want to keep the puck pressured in other end for as long as we can.”

That style was on full display in Saturday’s 1-1 tie against unbeaten Beverly, one of the top two or three teams in the state. Masco had long stretches of possession and when they didn’t, defensive stalwarts like Brooke, Duval, junior Riane Vatcher and freshman Nicole Flak made sure Elmore could see the shots coming her way.

“We were able to hold them deep and we never got caught flat at our own blue line. That helped us set the tone,” said Sugar, who’s been impressed with his D’s ability to rotate down in the offensive zone to keep the cycle going.

“The last five or six games, they’ve been crashing so well. Every single time, they know when to crash — they know how to pinch hard without letting the puck get by them and that’s harder than it seems.”

Having two blue liners with as much experience as Brooke (goal and five assists) and Duval (four goals, two assists) is a big benefit for any coach. Sugar can deploy them on the same pairing for crucial penalty kills and at the end of periods, and he can also have them play separately to even out his lines.

That kind of flexibility helps Masco stay fresh and keep its opponents on their toes.

“Those two are as solid as it gets,” Sugar said. “We moved Nicole Flak back to defense, her natural position, and that’s given us three really solid groups. Knowing we have two like Madi and Rachael for those late game situations is huge.”

Elmore sports a sterling .927 save percentage with 317 saves on 342 shots this season. She’s remarkably efficient in the crease and has a knack for freezing the puck to prevent rebounds and allow her team to reset defensively.

That’s played right into another of Masco’s strengths: Faceoffs. Junior Sami Kelleher and sophomore Mikayla Vincent are excellent on the draw, so when they win the puck immediately after Elmore makes a big save, it’s a huge swing of momentum.

Kelleher centers Sarra (Masco’s top scorer with 13 goals and 23 points) and Kate Irons. Vincent’s second unit has been scoring a lot lately, too: She has nine goals and sophomore winger Abby Gendron (six goals) has scored in three straight games.

The schedule for the Red-and-White isn’t easy, which should prepare them well for the tournament once they get the point they need to qualify. They face Shrewsbury (14-2) on Saturday and then play in the girls division of the annual Newburyport Bank Classic next week.

“That last point is super important so we want to get it as quickly as we can and then hopefully improve our positioning from there,” said Brooke.

The Chieftains have only one one state tourney game in their history, back in 2009. Getting past that first playoff game has been the goal all season, and it would be a great way for Brooke, Duval and the rest of the team’s seniors to finish out their high school careers.

“I’ve never won a playoff game in my four years, so winning that first one would mean everything to us,” Brooke said.

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