NDA hockey ousts Braintree to stretch post-Duxbury win streak to six


ROCKLAND – Notre Dame Academy hockey coach John Findley was under the weather on Feb. 15, so much so that he had to check out early from his team’s game at The Bog in Kingston. “I was so sick,” he recalled. “It was terrible.”

He had plenty of company as NDA’s players weren’t feeling so great themselves that night after coming up short in a much-anticipated showdown with fellow state powerhouse Duxbury.

Everybody seems to be doing much better since then.

In fact, the Cougars have won six straight since that disappointing night. The latest conquest was a 3-1 win over No. 16 Braintree on Saturday in a Division 1 Round-of-16 battle at a packed Rockland Ice Rink. The victory sends top-seeded NDA (16-4-2) on to a quarterfinal against the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 8 Pope Francis (13-7-2) and No. 9 Peabody (17-4).

Since that 2-0 loss to Duxbury, the Cougars are, as we said, 6-0 and have outscored opponents 21-6. The best win in that stretch was a 2-1 overtime victory over St. Mary’s (Lynn), which is No. 2 seed in Div. 1 and looms as a potential opponent in the March 17 state final at TD Garden. In this current heater, NDA also scored regular-season wins over Haverhill/Pentucket/North Andover — yes, that’s one team — plus Natick and Needham and kicked off its playoff run with a 7-1 wipeout of No. 32 Franklin in the first round.

More: Comeback ‘Cats: Murphy’s OT winner sends Milton girls hockey to Division 2 Elite Eight

The Duxbury loss was just 16 days ago, but it feels much farther away than that now.

“That game was big for us because Duxbury’s always a big rival of ours,” said senior goalie Ava Larkin of Canton. “We were definitely very excited to go into that game, and losing it was definitely upsetting. But it was a mind-shift almost [after that]; we realized there were a couple of things that we needed to fix. And we went to practice and we got to work and we fixed them.”

Junior forward Sarah White, of Hanover, who had a goal and an assist vs. Braintree, said the Cougars “100 percent” vowed to themselves that the Duxbury game would be their last loss of the season.

“We’ve really been working hard at practice, getting the energy up in the locker room and just coming together as a team,” White said. “I feel like a lot of girls have stepped up since that game. It was kind of just a bad game. We lost one, but we’ve come back even stronger.”

White had the assist on the winning goal in this one, setting up freshman linemate Chase Harmon on a power play with 1:16 left in the first period to break a 1-1 tie. White was behind the net and spied Harmon alone out front.

“I got a great pass from Sarah Francis,” said White, NDA’s leader in assists. “We were both down low and Chase was open in the slot. I gave it to her and she had a great shot.”

All three goals in the first period came on power plays. Freshman Reese Engel staked NDA to a 1-0 lead just 4:18 in on a shot from near the blue line. Shea Nolan tied it for Braintree (10-10-3) with 3:17 left by punching in a rebound.

White made it 3-1 just 3:08 into the third period when sophomore linemate Devon Moore (Milton) set her up between the circles.

“We had a great forecheck going,” White said of her goal. “Devon got the puck low and gave me a great pass. We’ve just been clicking as a line, and that was another example of it.”

Larkin, who came into the game with a sub-1.00 goals-against average and a .978 save percentage, didn’t get a ton of work as we had NDA with a 25-14 edge in shots. But she did make two fine saves on breakaways.

“She’s very good on breakaways,” White said. “We see it in practice when we do shootouts.”

“We do shootouts at the end of practice, so it’s something that I get a lot work at,” Larkin said. “It’s just me and the [offensive] player and I do what I can to make the save. I have a lot of confidence in myself.”

NDA has a lot of confidence in itself right now. The Duxbury game would have been a great one to win, but the Cougars own victories over a bunch of other top contenders, including St. Mary’s, Canton, Pembroke, Milton, Hingham, Malden Catholic and Archbishop Williams. They’re also 2-0-1 against Braintree this season, including a 0-0 tie and a 3-0 win at Duxbury’s Tenney Cup the week after Christmas.

“We feel good,” White said. “We’re very confident in how we’ve been playing recently. It feels good coming into the playoffs. We’re excited to keep going.”


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