Girls hockey: Locals shining on Pope Francis, Longmeadow co-ops

  • Goalie Rowan Howe, who is from Northampton, and the Pope Francis girls hockey team are 7-3 on the season and on a roll of late. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer 
Published: 2/3/2022 5:31:39 PM

While the Pope Francis’ girls hockey team has only been in existence for the last two seasons, they’re quickly proving to be just as much a contender as their competitors. 

After three close one-goal losses early in the season, the Cardinals had to look themselves in the mirror and decide what kind of team they wanted to be. How would the team respond to this kind of adversity – not just losing a few games early, but losing such close contests that they could have won. What if the puck bounced the other way for them?

“[After those three losses], I think we all did some soul searching,” Pope Francis head coach Chris Connors said. “We spent a day away from the rink. We actually did a team bonding night, we went bowling to take our mind off of things. That next day, we showed back up the practice and we just went back to work.” 

The team’s leadership core of Morgan Peritz, Northampton’s Rowan Howe, and Pittsfield’s Lauren Crocker and Mia Alfonso knew that their team had the capacity to rebound from their difficult start. Connors said their leadership had a calming impact on the team, and that helped turn their season around. 

“They all four know what we're capable of. They have high expectations that we all went into the season with. They knew that it was just a matter of one or two bounces and a little bit of puck luck, and we got it in the [second] Longmeadow game just by working hard,” Connors said. “That game right there was a pivotal game in turning around our season.”

After a tough 3-2 loss to Longmeadow the first time the two local teams played, Pope Francis came out and dominated the rematch en route to a 5-1 win that win sparked a six-game winning streak. Since their early struggles, the floodgates have opened for the Cardinals (7-3), who have outscored their last six opponents 29-3. The goaltending tandem of Howe and Amherst freshman Felix Goeckel have been lights out, picking up four shutouts over the course of the season. 

Goeckel is part of a group of five Amherst High School players on Pope Francis’ team, in addition to Ivory Arguin, Ava Carvel, Eleanor Jacoby and Brooke Weinman.

“That whole Amherst group, they're really talented. They're all hockey players and they have a good understanding of the game, good understanding of positioning,” Connors said. “Most importantly is that they all have a team-first mentality.”

Hopkins Academy also has a group of five suiting up for Pope Francis this year — Ava Hentrick, Madeleine Labrie, Mary Styspek, Addison Wright, and assistant captain Sara Wright. Frontier's Lila Roche and Camryn Rogalski are also playing for the Cardinals this year.

All things considered, it's a young group – the Cardinals have just four seniors — and while Jacoby, Weinman, Roche and Wright are all juniors, there's only one other upperclassman on the team in addition to the four seniors, making this somewhat of a learning year for the club.

“In terms of talent, I knew what we had coming into this season. So the expectations were definitely high. I knew we were young – in total, if you take our team, the entire team had less than 20 high school games under their belt,” Connors said. “They've bought into everything that our coaching staff has preached. And I'll tell you, they're getting rewarded for all their hard work over these past two years.”

Tough competition 

Over at Longmeadow, the Lancers’ girls hockey program has had more of an up-and-down season so far. The team sits with a 5-6-1 record, but they’ve been up against some of the toughest programs in Massachusetts so far this year.

“I always felt there was no point in watering down your schedule to get to playoffs. When you get to playoffs, you're gonna play high caliber teams,” Longmeadow head coach Melissa Vandermyn said. “So I always did a stronger schedule to prepare for the postseason.” 

There are two locals who have laced up their skates for the Lancers this year — South Hadley’s Margo Watkins and PVCICS’ Maeve Doherty. They’re two of the younger players on the team – Watkins is a freshman and Doherty is a sophomore – but both have made a significant impact on the ice so far this season.

“[Margo] is a good skater. She's smart with the puck and she just gets stronger every game,” Vandermyn said. “She's definitely going to be a big contender come her senior year as far as the maturity level and her strength level.”

Vandermyn has been especially impressed with Doherty’s improvement over the last year. She currently has as goal and an assist this season, but it’s her tough play on the puck that has shone this year. 

“[Maeve] has really come a long way since her freshman year. She was pretty talented her freshman year but wasn’t super strong on the puck, because she's a little bit on the smaller side. This year, she's been extremely tough on the puck and on her feet,” Vandermyn said. “She's been out for a lot of penalty kill, some power play situations, but [she’s got] good stamina [and she’s] a smart player.”

With a mix of nine seniors and a group of underclassmen, the Lancers are looking to mesh the two groups into a cohesive unit as the playoffs inch closer, giving them the best opportunity they can to send off their seniors with a long postseason run.

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