Going into this past weekend’s Nan Rheault Invitational tournament at the MV Arena, you could make a strong argument that Saturday night’s game against conference rival Scituate was the biggest game in the history of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School girls hockey program.
Of course there have been important games before, but this was the first time the Vineyarders entered the Nan Rheault with a winning record and a better than average chance of winning their home tournament.
The Vineyarders host the tournament every year, but have never won it.
They entered the contest with a 4-2 record overall and a perfect 3-0 record in their conference, the Southeast Massachusetts Girls Hockey League (SMGHL). The team has a strong chance at qualifying for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament for the first time ever.
Also their first round opponent in the tournament, Scituate, was a member of the SMGHL who also came into the game with a 3-0 conference record. They are also a team the Vineyarders will be fighting for a playoff berth right down to the wire.
And as if that weren’t enough, there was a ceremony before the game to honor Sam Sherman, the man who started the girls hockey program and coached the team for many years before his unexpected departure three years ago.
A full crowd was on hand to honor Mr. Sherman, as well as the boys’ hockey team and their coach Matt Mincone and a larger number of former players and parents of former players. Mr. Sherman was presented with a plaque to honor his invaluable contributions to the team.
Joe McMahon, coach of the Wilmington team, one of the four squads playing in the tournament, also presented Mr. Sherman with a jersey signed by all his players. Wilmington was the first team that Mr. Sherman invited to play in the Nan Rheault tournament, and has played in it every year with the exception of 2011.
It was a full house, the stakes were high and the stage was set for a classic game against Scituate, which it turned out to be.
Current Vineyarders Coach John Fiorito said his team had three goals at the start of the season: win their first ever conference title, qualify for the MIAA tournament for the first time, and win the Nan Rheault tournament on their home ice, also the first time ever.
So far the team is on track to accomplish its first two goals, and came tantalizingly close to accomplishing the third this weekend. The Vineyarders lost 2-1 to Scituate in the opening round, and then rolled over Peabody in the consolation game on Sunday by a final score of 6-1.
Coach Fiorito said he was proud of his team’s effort against Scituate.
“The team played really well, I think it was a step forward for us. We are an improving team this year, and this was a big test for us, and I think we passed. We play Scituate again this season, and I think our team will be ready for that rematch,” he said.
The Vineyarders jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first period on a goal by senior captain Celia Mercier, with assists from Emily Hammett and Co-captain Maggie Johnson. Goalie Texe Craig was strong for the Vineyarders, but so was Scituate goalie Hanna Clougherty, who allowed only one goal the entire tournament.
Scituate tied the game in the second period on a power play goal by senior Maggie Travers, and took the lead with less than five minutes left in the period on a high shot by Chloe Ewanouski. The Vineyarders fought valiantly through the third, but could never get the equalizer.
The Vineyarders outshot Scituate 22-13 in the game, and played stout defense from start to finish led by Lily Gazaille and Olivia Cimeno.
“We held them to 13 shots on goal, which is really something. We had a good goalie in the game – Texe has only allowed 14 goals all season, which is incredible. But they had a really good goalie too, and sometimes that just happens,” the coach said.
The consolation game against Peabody on Sunday had an entirely different texture, as the Vineyarders outshot their opponent 16-2 in the first period and scored four goals in the second en route to an easy 6-1 win.
This was a game of milestones for the Vineyarders, as Callie Jackson scored in her first game back from a concussion, Lilly Gazaille scored her first goal of the season, and Rilla Hammett scored her first career goal.
Meanwhile Mercier notched a hat trick, giving her 16 goals on the season; and Skylah Forend and freshman Sydney Davies both had a pair of assists.
“I was a little worried there might be a bit of a let down after the loss to Scituate, but our whole team really responded on Sunday. It was a nice bounce back for our team, especially for our senior players who set the tone,” coach Fiorito said.
The follow-up to the tournament will be a huge match up against perennial powerhouse Barnstable on the road on Wednesday. The coach said his team is keeping its eyes on the prize of winning the conference and/or qualifying for the state tournament.
“I think it’s within our reach,” he said.
In the Nan Rheault championship game Sunday, Scituate defeated Wilmington 2-0 to take home the trophy.