- Scott Barboza, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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WATERTOWN, Mass. – It’s not about the number of chances you have, it’s about what you do with them.
That conventional wisdom was put into action during the first period by No. 1 seed Reading in the Rockets’ Division 1 girls’ hockey quarterfinal against No. 9 Beverly/Danvers on Tuesday. The Rockets were soundly outshout during the opening period, 13-4, but they found the back of the net on 75 percent of their scoring chances, producing a 3-0 lead at the first intermission.
It would be all Reading would need, as junior goaltender Jess Strack made 24 saves in a 3-0 shut-out win.
“We thought, we hoped that our speed up front would be a little bit of a factor,” Rockets head coach Mike Golden said, “and the way things broke down … But when you get in these circumstances, it’s not always pretty, it’s not always the highlight film. We wanted to play with the lead, so we can do what we do best, which is roll three lines and really try to suffocate teams.”
Reading (20-2-0) got contributions with a goal from each of its three forward lines.
The Rockets lifted off at 5:29 of the first, when Rachel Thomson collected the carom from a Andrea Uglietta pass off the penalty box boards, sidestepped a Panthers defenseman and scored for a 1-0 lead. Reading’s leading-scorer Ali O’Leary doubled the lead at 10:40 with a pretty back-handed finish on a partial breakaway before Jamie Melley rounded out scoring in the stanza at 13:38.
“It wasn’t even our best period, they had a couple of breakdowns at inopportune times. But that’s what tournament hockey is. We’ve been on the other side of this fence the last couple years where we’re suddenly down in the first and then it’s so hard to come back .”
While territorial play was more even during the final two periods, Beverly/Danvers (14-6-1) went on to outshoot Reading 25-13 for the game. But Golden insisted he was OK with a bit of the rope-a-dope approach.
“If we’re going to get outshot, that’s the way I want to get outshot,” Golden said. “Twenty-foot wristshots aren’t going to beat either of our goaltenders.”
A Strack-ing performance: While Golden wasn’t as enthusiastic about the Rockets’ lack of quality scoring chances in the second and third periods, it was made to all stand up by his goaltender.
“She was very stabilizing in net,” Golden said of Strack. “She didn’t get worked a tremendous amount, but when she did, she made the pressure that came on her look fairly pedestrian and routine.”
After dispatching league rival Arlington in their first-round game, Reading is moving on to a semi-final date with Watertown/Belmont or Austin Prep (Chelmsford Forum, Sunday at 6:30 p.m.) in large part due to its play in net, which has been largely split by Strack and fellow junior Kayla St. Pierre.
“The truth is we don’t have a No. 1 and a No. 2 goalie – we have two No. 1 goalies,” Golden said. “Jess, that’s her sixth shutout and she’s had quite a year. We’re lucky to have her because not everybody has a 1-2 punch like that.”
Of course, as with Tuesday’s performance against the Panthers, their play has worked in tandem with the work of Reading’s top two defensive pairings and the attention to detail from its forwards in the defensive zone.
“We wanted to take away that third option,” Golden said. “Our D are pretty good at playing two-on-twos and one-on-ones. They play the body and they don’t get caught looking at the puck. Our big responsibility was to make sure we had a high forward that took away the trailer. If they take away the trailer, it allows our Ds to do what we ask them to do.”