The players on the Lincoln-Sudbury girls’ hockey team really just wanted to be themselves. They wanted to feel free, for discussion to be open in the locker room, for experimentation to be encouraged on the ice.
Paul Hardy , who took the helm as coach following a four-win season a year ago, really only had one rule.
In the defensive zone, there’s no freedom. Play by the book, within the system, and take no chances.
He felt differently about anything outside of the defensive zone. His message was odd to some, but once he explained it, it was exactly what the girls wanted to hear: Experiment like a hippie.
“He calls his offense the 1960s,” said senior defenseman Cammie Vercollone , who has watched her game develop on the offensive end, where she’s put away three goals in nine games. “Only a few of us upperclassmen got that one.”
After L-S captured the Dual County League Small title in 2010 and 2011, there was a lack of trust and chemistry last season, according to the seniors. Encouragement to be themselves and try new things might have been exactly what they needed.
The Warriors are out to a 7-2 start this season, having scored 36 goals while allowing just five, the least goals per game allowed among all Division 1 teams.
“What I was focusing on, which I noticed they were a little deficient on, was defensive covering,” Hardy said.
“It was forechecking. They just haphazardly went after the puck with no real system at all. My first few weeks I kept hammering how we were going to forecheck, teaching them how to do that, how the forecheck rolls into the backchecking, how that rolls into defensive zone coverage.
“The defensive game I always equated to eras. The ’50s was defensive hockey. The ’60s was offensive hockey. The ’50s was neat and clean, black and white. The ’60s is all experimental. The offense is all experimental. I won’t put boundaries on them. But when it comes to defense, you have to be in the right spot in the right time.”
After starting the girls’ program at Stoneham High in the early 2000s, Hardy coached for five years, earning the team varsity status in the final two. At that point, he felt convinced he had done what he had set out to do and decided to retire.
But as his daughters, Elizabeth, 11, and Mariellen, a freshman on the Acton-Boxborough Regional girls’ team, started to get older, Hardy second-guessed himself.
“The first hockey season I wasn’t coaching, I thought, ‘Geez, I made a mistake,’ ” Hardy said.
The position at Stoneham was reopened and Hardy applied, but Sara Sweet , the current head coach, was hired, and Hardy joined on as an assistant.
“When I went back as an assistant, two years after I had stepped down, I said, ‘Shoot, maybe I shouldn’t have done this,’ ” he said. “We ended up making the tournament three out of the four years when I came back. I got the itch to coach my own team again.”
Judging by Lincoln-Sudbury’s record last year, Hardy didn’t think he would have this much talent on the roster. But the girls say it was there all along.
Vercollone and twin sister, Melinda , join Nicole Lynch as the only seniors on the team. The three captains have combined for 11 goals and 13 assists. They’ve also turned Lincoln-Sudbury into one of the more physical girls’ hockey teams in the area.
“I’m glad you say that,” said Lynch, who at 5-foot-3 considers herself small, but scrappy.
“We’re a physical team in a clean way. We want to be strong on the puck.”
Conditioning coach Shawn Miller “has helped a lot. He’s known around our school for being really into fitness. It’s one of the little things that can really help us improve. We may not have the best passes or shots, but we’re working hard.”
Miller puts the Warriors through intense workouts each Monday, when the team doesn’t have any ice time. And before every game they do a warm-up that includes sprinting, squats, lunges, push-ups, and jumping jacks.
“After our warm-ups, you get hot,” Cammie Vercollone said. “You’re coming in from the cold outside, so I have sweatshirts, long-sleeve shirts on. After the warm-ups I’m sweating buckets.”
When the Warriors were getting off the ice before a game against Westford at the Groton School, the players on the Groton varsity boys’ squad told Hardy they couldn’t believe he makes them do a full workout before the game even starts.
But Hardy runs only two lines, occasionally using a third, as he tries to match up with more talented and often deeper teams.
“We’re still pretty well conditioned,” Lynch said. “It really makes a difference. Coach always tells us, ‘The third period is our period.’ We’re more conditioned, so we can control the game.”
Outstanding weekendfor Marlborough boys
The Marlborough boys had about as good a weekend as can be had in Central Massachusetts, defeating both Groton Dunstable and Hudson, the defending Division 3 state champs.
Junior goalie Ben Wickleman shone against the Crusaders, stopping 44 shots as Marlborough held on for a 2-1 win.
“He was definitely the difference,” said coach Mike O’Brien . “They’re a big, strong, fast team. I thought we played OK. We hung in there. A high school kid making 44 saves in a game — that’s outstanding goaltending play.”
Senior Nick Mosca has led a sturdy defensive unit for the 7-2 Panthers, while Steve Lampedecchio , who spent the last two seasons as a grinding third-liner, has been great up front with eight goals in nine games.
“With guys moving on, he had an opportunity to play on the top line,” O’Brien said. “He’s still doing a great job killing penalties, but he found an additional tool in his box. Now he’s scoring goals.”
Medway senior leads scoring against Medfield
Senior Jack Kilty scored three goals to lift Medway over Medfield, 6-2, in a battle of undefeated teams. The Mustangs moved into first place in the Tri-Valley League with the win. Kilty has nine goals and eight assists through Medway’s 5-0-3 start.
Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at email@example.com.