WOBURN, Mass. -- Keeping in mind that it is just the third game of the regular season, perhaps it's still fair to say that the Woburn girls hockey team made a rather loud statement Saturday night.
The Tanners top line of Kayla Smith, Bryana Harron and Ashley Moran put on a show, combining for 11 points while Courtney Davis stopped 17 shots as the fourth-ranked Tanners blanked No. 3 St. Mary's, 5-0, at O'Brien Arena.
"Last year we got so close that it was on us for 12 months," said Woburn defenseman Cassandra Connolly, referring to a regular season game a year ago where the Spartans scored in the final minute to force a 1-1 tie. "We're finally back here and we beat them and it feels good."
It looked pretty good, too. After a pretty even first period, Woburn (3-0) broke the game open in the second. Twice Smith -- an ESPN Boston preseason first-team All-State selection -- found herself uncovered just outside the crease, and twice she buried her feeds. Harron followed by popping in a rebound of a Connolly shot for a power play goal that put Woburn ahead, 3-0, with just under six minutes left in the second.
"In the first period we weren't really going to the net as hard as we should have and in the second, we started going to the net," explained Smith. "A lot of the shots we were taking were going in. We had a lot of rebounds that we were finishing so it worked out good."
Woburn quickly erased any fears of a Spartan (2-1) comeback, as Smith got her hat trick just eight seconds into the final frame on a perfect pass from Moran (four assists), who was stationed behind the St. Mary's net. The Tanners closed out the scoring as Smith fed Harron with a crossing pass on a 2-on-1 break that the senior captain buried.
"I think we're practicing good together and we work well together," said Harron, who had two goals and an assist. "Its not one person doing it all. We're working together as a team. We were moving the puck well and just getting open and talking to each other.
Added Moran, "We just work as a team. We know where each other is and we can see each other through the plays."
Tanners 'D' strong: While Woburn was clearly the better team on this night, the final score doesn't give an accurate picture of how the game played out.
St. Mary's started out very aggressively and challenged Davis early and often, forcing the first-team All-State netminder to make eight of 17 stops in the opening stanza. The biggest came right off the opening faceoff when Austin Prep transfer Kaleigh Finigan intercepted the first pass after Woburn won the faceoff and broke in alone on Davis, who covered the net well and made a huge stop.
She had help from her blue line corps, however, as fellow first-team All State defenseman Connolly, Kylee Maher and Jessica Thielsch limited the number of truly great chances the Spartans were able to muster. They also successfully killed off both power play chances St. Mary's had.
"We were really good on the penalty kills. They had good possession but they didn't really get a ton of good looks," said Woburn coach Bob MacCurtain. "I thought it could be 1-0 St. Mary's eight seconds into the game if not for Courtney making a great save.
How you play, not who you play: While it was obvious from the way the Tanners rushed off the bench to celebrate the win around Davis and from the comments of the players afterward that a win over St. Mary's had great meaning, to MacCurtain it was more important how they did than who it was they did it against.
"I think its more about how we played and not about who we played," he said. "I'm happy with how we played. Our kids played hard, made a lot of good decisions. First period I thought they kind of came at us a little but but we've been talking about being a mentally tougher team this year. After last year, we needed to be tougher this year. I think these kids are very determined and I thought we did a lot of good things tonight."
Count Spartans out at own risk: For a team that won three consecutive state championships during a 100-game win streak that ended during a quarterfinal round postseason loss to Hingham a year ago, this was assuredly a disappointing start to a new season. But, being just the third game, it's a loss to used as a learning experience.
"We're going to be alright," Spartans coach Frank Pagliuca said. "It's game three of the season. We're focusing on moving ahead. Obviously we know where we stand right now and what work we have to do."
St. Mary's opened the game with a first line consisting of first-team All State forward Alison Butler and Austin Prep transfer Finigan playing between Medford import Brittani Lanzilli. All three were very active and had quality scoring chances. Lanzilli brings a unique skating ability to the ice while Finigan showed early signs of being willing to get in and mix it up.
In all, the Spartans used at least five different line combinations as opposed to Woburn's two. The difference in the game from the Spartans point of view was a failure to cash in on chances when they arose.
"Obviously we had a lot of opportunities but the difference is they finished their chances and we didn't," surmised Pagliuca. "They have a very good team, excellent goaltending, they're well coached. You have to finish chances against good teams and if you don't you're going to put yourself behind the eight ball."