ANDOVER — A tragedy that brought together two communities also helped bring out the best in two of the Bay State’s best girls hockey teams at Phillips Andover last night.
Colleen Ritzer, the beloved Danvers High teacher from Andover who was murdered in October, was honored in a contest between her hometown Warriors and Beverly, which co-ops with Danvers.
Both teams wore special jerseys and every player on both sides had the name Ritzer on the back of her sweater. The shirts were pink, Ritzer’s favorite color, and the players had skate laces, stick tape and hair ribbons of the same color.
The Golden Warriors held off a furious Beverly comeback to hand the Panthers their first loss of the year, 4-3.
“The outpouring of support from both communities was incredible. This is probably one of the biggest crowds we’ve played in front of,” said Andover coach Liz Keady. “Beverly has a great team from the goal out, and we rose to the occasion.”
Beverly (9-1) fell behind 3-0 and scored three times in the third to make a game of it. Izzy Straw and Nicole Woods scored at 6:20 and 8:24 of the third to make it 3-2, and Andover appeared to retake control on Jessica Leone’s second goal with 2:04 to play.
With 47 seconds left and the net empty, Beverly’s Julia Nearis scored to make it 4-3. The Panthers had two more bids to tie it sail wide, and the Warriors (7-2-1) held on.
“We dug ourselves a hole and we knew we were good enough to get out of it, but some nights it doesn’t happen,” said Beverly coach Brian Seabury. “Andover was physical early on and we didn’t bring the urgency to match it.”
For both teams, the game was about honoring the name on the back of their shirts. Ritzer’s sister, Laura, is a senior playing for Andover. Faculty and students from Danvers High came out to support the cause as well, with donations and raffles going to the Colleen Ritzer Memorial Scholarship Fund.
“The girls really ran with it and it was great for both communities. It goes to show how much Ms. Ritzer meant to them,” said Seabury.
The Warriors grabbed control with two goals in the first as Mikayla Panneton and Veronica Alois found the net. The Panthers couldn’t convert on a pair of power plays at the end of the period, and Andover extended the lead with a power play goal by Leone early in the second.
Andover got 22 saves from goalie Meghan Johnson, including a breakaway stop on Nearis and a dazzling toe save on Kristen McCarthy in the second. Generally, the Warriors seemed to have fresh legs and won most of the loose pucks.
“We’re a deep team and we like to roll three lines,” said Keady. “We won some battles on the boards. The kids were excited and this meant a lot for us.”
Straw, a third-liner, got Beverly going with a blast from the slot.
“We had some special teams situations run together and we need bodies. The third line stepped up in those minutes and got us a goal. They worked really hard and that’s what we love to see from them,” said Seabury.
Andover 4, Beverly 3
Beverly (9-1): 0 0 3 — 3
Andover (7-2-1): 2 1 1 — 4
Goals: A — Mikayla Panneton, Veronica Alois, Jessica Leone 2
Assists: A — Louisa Gross, Brianna Deloury 2, Brenna Keefe, Haley Driscoll
Saves: A — Meghan Johnson 28