Photo: Watertown/Belmont’s Erin McLaughlin redirects the puck past Andover goalie Meaghan Johnson for the Mauraiders’ first goal.
Goals by senior captain Erin McLaughlin and sophomore Aurora Fidler provided the margin of victory as the Watertown/Belmont combined high schools girls’ ice hockey team skated by a resilient Andover High School (19-3-1) squad in a first round match in the Division 1 state championship tournament at Watertown’s Ryan Rink Saturday, Feb. 28.
“It was a very exciting game. Maybe too exciting. But we got one under our belts,” said Watertown/Belmont Head Coach Steve Russo to the Belmontonian as his 4th-ranked team advances to the quarterfinals where it will meet fifth-seed Austin Prep of Reading.
The game is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, March 4 at 6 p.m. in Woburn.
In a match which Watertown/Belmont (19-3-1) dominated large portions of the first and second periods, it was Andover’s defense – led by senior goaltender Meaghan Johnson and standout junior defender Jillian Hughes – which kept Watertown/Belmont’s top line, which includes all-star senior forward Emily Loprete, in check.
“We were inches away several times, hitting a post once, but we just couldn’t score that early goal,” said Russo.
While the Maraiders were in control for long stretches, the Golden Eagles found gaps in the Watertown/Belmont back line which resulted in a number of odd man rushes at veteran freshman goaltender Jonna Kennedy – she started last year as an eighth grader. But nearly all the partial breaks were broken down before reaching the net by the speedy defenders, led by senior co-captain Suzanne Noone and junior Serena Nally.
“We have people that work hard to get back when a mistake is made and as you saw, they had several opportunities to score when our defense and forwards made the play to deny,” said Russo.
It took a pair of penalties early in the second and third periods to open space on the ice for the Maraiders to take advantage.
After an interference penalty on Andover, a shot from the point by junior defender Kelly McCusker-Brown found McLaughlin in slot where the senior redirected the puck just past Johnson’s left pad into the net second minute into the middle stanza.
Watertown/Belmont’s second goal was a moment of being in the right place for Fidler who knocked in a loose puck in the crease to double the lead also two minutes into the final period, assisted by McLaughlin and Nally.
Soon after the second goal, Andover began to exploit a tiring Watertown/Belmont squad.
“That happens in playoff games,” said Russo. “You get the jitters, the adrenaline wears off, it happens.”
Soon, Andover drew a penalty just before midway through the period and scored on a wrist shot in close from senior captain Jessica Leone with assists from fellow senior captain Caroline Hughes and Jillian Hughes.
“Andover kept coming. They played with some desperation and they’re a really good team,” said Russo.
The Golden Eagles nearly knotted up the contest with five-and-a-half minutes left with a shot from a swarm in the slot hit Kennedy at the last second. While a penalty against Watertown/Belmont with 30 seconds remaining allowed Andover to pull their goalie and have six skaters against the Maraiders’ four, two final shots from the point didn’t reach Kennedy as they were blocked out front.
For Russo, Saturday’s victory belonged to the team rather than a couple of individual players who performed well.
“All three [offensive] lines did their job today. Everybody did what was asked of them,” said Russo.