STONEHAM, Mass. – Alison Butler had the book on Austin Prep goaltender Shannon O’Neil. The St. Mary’s of Lynn winger knew Tuesday night’s opponent well, having battled the Cougars twice during the regular season. She’s also been a teammate of O’Neil’s, playing travel hockey together in summer and fall tournaments.
Still, beating the Cougars’ senior netminder is easier said than done. O’Neil entered Tuesday’s action leading the state in shutouts with 10, in addition to maintaining a Vezina-caliber 96.8 save percentage during the regular season.
Yet, the Division 1 state quarter-final matchup at the Stoneham Arena went to the shooter. Butler led the No. 4 seed Spartans to a 3-0 win over their Catholic Central League rivals. The senior captain figured in each of St. Mary’s goals, netting two of her own in addition to dishing out the assist on the Spartans’ final tally.
It all went to plan.
“We had to come out strong and get one quick on Shannon [O’Neil],” Butler said, reflecting on the team’s game plan for the evening.
Butler did just that, forcing an AP defensive zone turnover behind the Cougars’ net and finished out front on the back-hand, beating O’Neil top shelf 2:50 into the first. She followed suit in the second period with a power-play goal at 2:05 of the second with assists from Tatiana Doucette and Samantha Callahan.
St. Mary’s (14-3-5) then struck 54 seconds later, with Butler throwing the saucer pass onto Madison Molea’s stick on a 2-on-1 break.
In premiere matchup of one of the state’s top forwards against one of its top netminders, Butler was on point.
“If she has an open opportunity,” Cougars head coach Stephanie Wood said of Butler, “she’ll rarely miss.”
Spartans goaltender Lauren Skinnion was the one earning the shutout over her counterpart, making 14 saves in victory, seven of which came in the first period.
“Lauren Skinnion was awesome tonight,” St. Mary’s head coach Frank Pagliuca said. “She made some big saves in the third period, she really kept them at bay.”
With the victory over AP, the Spartans set up another anticipated matchup, as they’ll face top-seeded Woburn on Sunday at the Chelmsford Forum in a semi-final bout to determine who will skate on Garden ice.
END OF A RUN, START TO THE FUTURE
While O’Neil played her final game in a sensation season, the future certainly is bright at AP (12-8-4).
The Cougars will graduate just four players from their roster, including their starting goaltender. There are seven freshman on the roster, in addition to three eight-graders, so there’s a youth movement afoot.
And they’re talented. Two of AP’s top six leading scorers (Michaela Boyle and Mauri Anthony) aren’t even freshman. It’s second-leading scorer, Maddy Ricci (8-9-17), is a sophomore and freshman forward Kathleen McHugh (8-8-16) was third.
The Cougars’ bumper crop of young talent even prompted Pagliuca, after the game, to call AP a favorite for the league title entering next season.
While the maturation process will continue, it’s doubtful the Cougars have hit their stride just yet.
“They’re babies still,” Wood said.