– Mass. Girls Division I State Final Players to Watch –
When Reading and Acton-Boxboro hit the ice for the 2015 MIAA Girls Division I state championship game Sunday at Boston Garden (9 am face-off), it will pit two teams that are quite familiar with each other.
This game will mark the fifth time these two teams have met in the last three years. They did meet once during this regular season, with the Rockets taking an impressive 6-1 win.
At quick glance, one would think that result would mean that Reading will have the upper hand on Sunday. Not so fast.
“I think all the regular season meeting does for us is prove we can play with them,” said Reading coach Mike Golden. “The series is tied 2-2 with the other three games being one-goal games. We are anticipating that kind of game rather than the result we had earlier this season.”
The Colonials were missing a few key players in that one, but they are not using that as an excuse.
“The 6-1 loss does not weigh on our minds,” said Acton-Boxboro coach Brian Fontas. “It’s a good motivator for our players. We didn’t play well in all aspects of the game that night. Reading is a great team and they are well coached. We will have to be at our best on Sunday, that’s for sure.”
The game has the potential to be a wide-open offensive affair, as both teams possess some high-caliber offensive players. Reading (21-2-0) has also been stellar defensively, allowing only 17 goals in 23 games, and none in three post season wins (2-0 over Arlington, 3-0 over Beverly/Danvers and 3-0 over Austin Prep).
Acton-Boxboro comes in at 18-3-3 overall and averages exactly four goals a game. The Colonials boast the state’s most prolific line in senior Leah Cardarelli (28-39-67), and juniors Megan Barrett (25-36-61) and Olivia Keefe (15-34-49). They combined for all five goals in A-B’s exciting 2OT semifinal win over defending champ Duxbury.
Golden was asked if he anticipated an offensive or defensive game.
“That’s a great question,” he said. “I guess I would prefer a low scoring puck possession style game and hopefully keeping their big line in check. I can’t imagine that we would want to exchange chances with them on a 1-1 ratio.”
If the game does open up, Reading can play that way as well. Junior Ali O’Leary (41-24-65) is amongst the state’s elite players, and junior Tori Grimmer (11-23-34) is a key component. The Rockets may possess more offensive depth as others like Gabby DeCologero (12-9-21), Ashley Tango (4-18-22) and senior tri-captains Rachel Thomson (14 pts) and Emma McDonagh (14 pts) must be accounted for.
Both teams also have a gifted blueliner that gets involved offensively in Reading junior Caroline Seibold (8-19-27) and Acton-Boxboro’s Alex Loblundo (6-17-23).
“Both of these teams are talented up front,” said Westford Academy coach Bob Ware, whose team played both Reading and A-B this season. “They both have dangerous forwards that can score. I am impressed with Reading’s defense and their ability to move the puck up ice. Reading has very good team speed which might be a problem for A-B for 45 minutes on a big surface like the TD Garden. Reading needs to contain Cardarelli and A-B has to contain O’Leary.”
Will depth be a potential problem for the Colonials?
“We have dealt with that all season,” Fontas said. “I find myself running the bench like a chess game. We have top players that have been in they types of game before. We are looking forward to the challenge to play a very deep talented team like Reading.”
Whether it turns out to be a close-to-the vest defensive battle with A-B’s Cali Loblundo and Reading’s Jess Strack doing their jobs between the pipes, or a wide-open offensive affair, it should be a classic game between two top programs.
“For A-B to win, they need a great effort by goalie Cali Loblundo, she has big game experience which can help.” Ware said. “A-B also needs to win the special teams game. They have a good power play because their forwards are very unselfish and move the puck to each other. They will have their hands full with Reading’s power play. Reading moves and shoots the puck well on their PP. Reading has to push the pace of this game. A-B had a limited bench and are not deep. They need to wear down A-B and force them to play their first line more, which might have a thrid period edge for Reading. Reading has dynamic team speed up-front that can hurt teams on long shifts and turnovers.
“This will be a great hockey game for two public schools with great traditions,” said Ware. “The team that plays better in their D-zone and special teams will win this game. Turnovers in your own zone will hurt you against both of these teams. Both goalies will be tested, and the team that allows the least second and third chances will come out on top.”