Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Steve Craig firstname.lastname@example.org
SACO - The way Coach Matt Libby sees it, his national tournament-bound girls' hockey team is just now getting to know each other.
Kendall Carr, on the left, elicits a laugh from her teammates on the Portland Junior Pirates U19 girls’ hockey team at a practice in Saco.
Photos by Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer
Matt Libby, coach of the Portland Junior Pirates girls’ U19 team, diagrams instructions at the MHG Ice Center in Saco on Thursday. And Libby has a lot to offer – he played for both Providence College and professionally for the Portland Pirates.
From their first gathering in September until the end of the high school season, the Portland Junior Pirates girls' U19 team played or practiced only on Sundays.
It was clear that Libby's 14 players from nine different programs enjoyed each others' company and appreciated the opportunity to play with similarly skilled and motivated players.
But really, how much knowledge could the Saco native who played at Providence College (1997-2001) and with the Portland Pirates (2002-2004) impart in just one day a week?
"It's tough. These girls are really busy. They're playing their fall sports, then they're going to play for their high school hockey teams and now they're getting ready for the spring sports," Libby said.
Apparently it was enough for a strong foundation -- the Junior Pirates won both the state and regional championships earlier this month to earn a trip to the USA Hockey Tier II Nationals held April 3-7 in San Jose, Calif.
"I'm ecstatic and I can't wait. I'm really excited because I think for any girl, or any hockey player in general, the nationals are the ultimate goal," said Meg Finlay, a senior at Greely High School.
"To be able to reach that our senior year, I couldn't have asked for a better way to finish up my high school career."
Twelve teams from around the country qualified for the tournament. The field is divided into two six-team pools. Each team plays three pool games with the top four advancing to the quarterfinal round on Saturday, April 6. Semifinals and finals are on April 7.
The Junior Pirates will face the East Coast Wizards of Massachusetts on Wednesday, the Washington Wild on Thursday and the Big Sky Wildcats from the Northern Plains region on Friday.
This is the second season of Portland Junior Pirates girls' hockey. The U19 and U16 teams have advanced to the regional level both seasons. A U14 team was added this season. This is the first Junior Pirates girls' team to qualify for the nationals. The boys' U16 team went in 2011.
After posting a 10-8-2 regular-season record, the U19 team meshed in the postseason.
"I knew that it would be tough to get to the (regional) championship. I actually wasn't expecting it so it was a pretty big deal that we made it to the championship and ended up winning," said Sarah Martens, a Scarborough High senior. "Maine is probably one of the least likely teams to make it through."
At the regional tournament, the Junior Pirates played five games in three days, with two each on Saturday and Sunday. They won both the semifinal and final in overtime on goals by Biddeford's Katie Roy, a 50-plus goal scorer at Cheverus this past season.
"One was on a penalty kill, I was going around the goalie and she tripped me and it was literally like a Bobby Orr moment," Roy said, referring to the iconic photo of Orr's Stanley Cup winner. "I was literally airborne."
The unexpected success put the pressure on to raise some extra funds to defray the personal travel costs of making the trip to San Jose.
Of the 14 players on the roster, 12 played in the Maine high school ranks this season.
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click image to enlarge
Goalie Devan Kane of Scarborough blocks a puck during practice, as the girls’ U19 team gets ready for the upcoming national tournament in early April at San Jose, Calif.