EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 17, 2012

Girls high school hockey: Central taking first season one step at a time

Jumping right into varsity play, Raider girls hockey endures trial by fire

By Chuck Frye
sports@eagletribune.com

---- — ANDOVER — Without a doubt, Jeff Marggraf knows the score.

When he was hired as Central Catholic’s first girls hockey head coach — and when he and new AD Ernie DiFiore decided to begin the program at the varsity level right off the bat — Marggraf knew wins would be a challenge.

Last night’s 10-0 loss to an established Andover team might be the norm in year one.

“I told the girls it’s not about the score, it’s the effort,” said Marggraf, a 1987 Central grad. “We made a conscious effort to jump into varsity play and get the girls some experience, so we knew we were going to take some lumps this year.”

With a dearth of on-ice experience (the first line has three freshmen) and already dealing with injuries that have sent three of their 17 players to the sidelines, small victories are big to the Raiders.

Winning some physical battles in front of the net, controlling rebounds, clearing the puck to the neutral zone, playing in position and not bunching up around the puck — the Raiders are making progress.

The biggest burden falls on junior Sydney Thornhill in the Raiders net. As the only player to have any type of goaltending experience (from field hockey), Thornhill drew the short straw a month before the season.

“They asked, ‘Can you skate?’ and I said yes,” said Thornhill. “I definitely had to adjust, but (assistant) coach Michelle Collett (who played on the boys team at Andover before goaltending at Northeastern) has been a great supporter and a great teacher.”

Thornhill’s attitude is perfect for the position, especially on a first-year team.

“Yeah, I love it so far,” Thornhill said. “Knowing I’m the first-ever ice hockey goalie, I think that’s pretty cool. It’s definitely leaving me with a good high school experience.”

Alois, Warriors get offensive

Against a dominant Andover squad, another Thornhill attribute was beneficial.

“You have to be able to forget things easily and move on because the game doesn’t slow down,” she said.

After getting beaten up for 13 shots and five goals in the first period, Thornhill pitched a second-period shutout with several fine glove saves among her 15 stops.

But with a line clicking like freshmen Veronica Alois (4 goals) and Meggan Rodriguez (4 assists) and junior Briana Smith (3 assists) did, it was just a matter of time for Andover.

“Me and Meggan played together in past years and it was good to reconnect with her,” said Alois, who is from a well-known basketball family. “We have the same playing style and that’s great.

“We do a lot of team bonding. Two days a week we go to the gym together and we do a lot of stuff on weekends. It’s always nerve-racking for a freshman coming in to a team, but the girls have been very welcoming and it’s been a good transition. And winning helps as well.”

And Central is pulling together as well, choosing to work out just hours after a 10-goal defeat.

“We practice four days a week at four different locations,” Marggraf said. “(This morning) is at Methuen at 5:30 a.m. and I gave them a chance (to opt out) but they wanted to practice.”

Exactly the program-building attitude Marggraf wants to see.

Andover 10, Central Catholic 0

Central Catholic (0-3): 0 0 0 —  0

Andover (1-1-1): 5 0 5 — 10

Goals: Veronica Alois 4, Meg Leary, Melissa Newton, Caroline Hughes, Brianna Deloury, Meg Keefe, Jessica Leone

Assists: Meggan Rodriguez 4, Brianna Smith 3, Mary Latona 2, Morgan Manning 2, Weezie Gross, Leary, Alois, Leone, Hughes

Saves: A — Meghan Johnson 5; CC — Sydney Thornhill 39