Very few people likely gave Nantucket’s girls hockey team (0-10) a chance entering Saturday afternoon’s home game against Barnstable (8-4-1). The Red Hawks are considered one of the state’s best teams, coming in at #22 in the Boston Herald’s Top 25 state rankings for girls hockey, while Nantucket has yet to win a game and is working through a difficult season.
But the Whalers came into the game motivated and were fresh off of an excellent day of practice on Friday, head coach Liz Collins said after the game. They forced Barnstable to play a full 45 minutes in order to sail away with a victory and to Barnstable's credit, they did just that by winning 4-3 following a power play goal in the final two minutes of the game.
“This week in practice, especially yesterday, we broke it down and separated the defense and offense,” Collins said. “We took the time to go on and explain the things we were seeing done wrong in games in very slow motion.”
The game was scoreless after one period of play in large part because of strong goaltending by Nantucket junior Caroline Allen and strong defensive play. Collins said assistant coach Jillian Fey deserves a lot of credit for the work she did in practice helping their defense pairings understand how to improve their positioning.
“Jill took the defense, brought them in, and worked with them on positioning which led to a lot of blocked shots, which really helped out Caroline,” Collins said.
The second period still had some bright defensive moments, but there was much more offense on display as both teams scored two goals each to make it a 2-2 game entering the second intermission.
The period began with two quick Barnstable goals to put Nantucket in a 2-0 hole in the early minutes of the period. It raised the question whether the Red Hawks were about to pull away in the game and take a commanding lead, but Nantucket didn’t back down.
After a pair of penalties, Nantucket found itself with a lengthy 5-on-3 power play opportunity. Junior center Bailey Lower capitalized on the chance with a goal to slash Barnstable’s lead in half and make it 2-1.
Nantucket still had a 5-on-4 power play after the goal but didn’t convert. Shortly after, Barnstable got a power play opportunity of their own. Unlike the Whalers, the Red Hawks were unable to score on the man advantage. Instead, it was the Whalers on the penalty kill generating offense. Lower picked up a loose puck at open ice and after a few dekes, slid the puck into the Red Hawk net to tie the game with 5:50 to go in the period.
Collins said she has loved seeing the growth of Lower both as a player and a leader on this team.
“That was one of the best games Bailey has played in her four years with the program,” Collins said. “Her speed, she outskated everyone and used it to score all three of her goals.”
Nantucket nearly took a lead when they generated more offensive pressure that led to a puck sitting on the goal line. The Whaler players initially celebrated thinking it was in and they had themselves a lead, but it was ruled a no goal by the officials and the score remained 2-2 through the game’s first 30 minutes.
Barnstable scored three minutes into the final period to make it 3-2, but Nantucket kept the pressure on. They had a few high-quality chances in the following minutes but were unable to convert until Lower once again used her speed to gain leverage on a Barnstable defender, skated around her and created another breakaway chance that she was able to bury to tie the game 3-3 with 5:16 left in the game and complete the hat trick.
It appeared both teams may be settling with a tie as the final minutes winded down, but Barnstable kept their foot on the gas to the very end and drew a penalty with just over two minutes left in the game.
The Red Hawks capitalized on the power play chance with 1:55 to go in the game and while Nantucket got a power play chance with 34 seconds left with a chance to tie it again, the Red Hawks held on to keep the Whaler’s winless.
“This is a strong team,” Collins said of Barnstable. “They are very good, and that goalie is very good in net for them. Last time we played them it was 7-2 and this time it was 4-3. It came down to inches. None of my girls should be hanging their heads. They played hard until the very end.”
Collins said she felt sophomore forward Mayson Lower and freshman forward Sadie Paterson played strong games.
“I thought Mayson’s backchecking and getting in lanes, her positioning was very good,” Collins said. “I thought Sadie played very well and our four defense pairings played very well like Alex (Wisentaner) and Adeline (Edwardes). Caroline was solid again. She has been saving our backs all season.
The Whalers will look to build off of this game when they travel to Sandwich to take on the Blue Knights (8-3) on Wednesday, February 1 at 4:30 p.m.