QUINCY, Mass. -- Filling the left wing spot alongside Alison Butler and Kaleigh Finigan has been a work in progress for St. Mary's coach Frank Pagliuca but he may have found a diamond in the rough in the form of freshman Sam Callahan.
Playing in just her second game with the two ESPN Boston All-State forwards, Callahan came up with two goals and an assist and played a key role in the fifth-ranked Spartans 5-3 victory over No. 14 Fontbonne in a nonleague tilt Thursday afternoon at Shea Rink.
Butler also had two goals and assisted on two others while Finigan contributed a goal and an assist to the cause as the Spartans (9-2-1) top line accounted for nine points in the win.
"I put Sammy on that line a couple games ago and she gives that line an extra physical presence out there," Pagliuca explained. "She has good hands and she's working hard and she's keeping up with those two. I thought the third period they played very well. That was one of the better periods they played together as a group."
That top unit struck quickly as Butler won a faceoff in the Ducks (8-5-1) zone that went right to Callahan, who snapped off a quick shot for the game's first goal just 31 seconds in.
"I think that we click well," Callahan said of playing with Butler and Finigan. "We know how to move the puck back and forth, which is something that usually takes time and I thought happened pretty quickly with us."
Fontbonne gradually took control of the tempo and got a strong contribution from one its own freshman as Katherine Nolan tied the game on a backhander from just off the post at the end of the first and added a power play goal at 5:55 of the middle frame. The Ducks got one more from senior captain McKenna Russell, who raced into the Spartans zone and ripped a perfect shot to the far post to make it a 3-1 game.
St. Mary's got one back with 2:23 left in the second as Callahan and Butler worked a beautiful give-and-go play with Butler knocking home the open look off the return pass. Continuing the energy into the third, the Spartans reeled off three scores in just under three minutes to put the game away.
Callahan had the tying goal, banging home a rebound of a shot by Finigan just 34 seconds in, then Finigan and Butler added markers of their own to push the lead to 5-3.
DOUCETTE BRINGS THE D
With Fontbonne showing a willingness to play an active, physical style, a lot of pressure was put on the St. Mary's blue line corps. The Spartans top three defensemen - Tatiana Doucette, Amanda Donahoe and Vanessa Van Buskirk - have been steadily improving throughout the season. Doucette in particular has emerged as one of the better blue liners in the state this year, taking over a line of succession that has seen stalwarts such as Alex Smith, Michelle Macchione, Angela Dandreo, Rachel Donahoe and Hannah Quin among others play key roles.
Doucette brings a level of physicality that seems to energize her teammates. She is also extremely adept in the clearing game and may well be one of the better puck-handlers on the squad.
"I thought Tatiana Doucette had a great game tonight," Pagliuca said. "She's really started to elevate herself and play very well. Her composure and her skating ability back there to track down loose pucks to and to make outlet passes has helped us tremendously."
Her effort, and those of her teammates, was crucial in the third period once the Spartans got the lead. Fontbonne has shown a willingness to play a physical and aggressive style all season long, something that helped them take the 3-1 lead in the first place.
But when it came to crunch time, Doucette and her defensive teammates stepped up, getting an added contribution from eight-grader Ashley Wojewodzic after Donahoe left in the third with an injury.
"In the locker room we were talking about how we needed to come back and work together as a team so we just came out and pushed," Doucette explained. "We just wanted it really badly. We didn't walk them to walk all over us. We just work hard at practice and we communicate well on the ice too. We talk a lot and feel comfortable with each other and we try to have fun so it makes it easier."
SECOND LINE CONTRIBUTIONS
While all of the offense came from the Spartans top line, the second unit has more than done its job throughout the winter. Senior Gabrielle Crugnale has the talent to skate up top but is more valuable to the team in the middle of the second group. She is the team's third leading scorer (9-6-15) and has been a constant while centering a number of forwards who rotate in and out on the wings.
"I thought Gabby had a good game as well on that other line," Pagliuca said. "That whole line in general, we rotated a couple forwards through that line, they contributed. They got the puck in deep and forechecked aggressively. That's what we want."
"We have extra bodies that we rotate through," he continued. "The one thing that we really focused on was conditioning this year because we have smaller numbers and its starting to pay off in the third period against a team like that. Especially when you don't have that rest in between the first and the second. I was proud of our kids tonight."