Sabers, Cards hope to be strong in girls hockey

Staff photo by TOM KING Bishop Guertin's Brooke Yabroudy skates past Souhegan's Julia Pinkham (15) during a game last season. Both are back to play key roles for their respective teams as the season gets underway beginning tonight..

It’s healthier than it has ever been.

The sport of girls ice hockey in New Hampshire has reached an all-time high of 16 teams with the addition of Pinkerton Academy this year (and Bedford a year ago), and that just adds to the competition.

And certainly makes it challenging for the two local entries, Bishop Guertin and Souhegan, to keep up.

“Now that it’s 16 teams, we’re not playing anybody twice anymore, and it makes for a lot more parity,” Souhegan coach Kelli Braley said. “I think Hanover and Exeter will be the top two again, but from there it’s anybody’s game.”

Under the NHIAA’s 70 percent rule, the one addition to 16 teams will mean an extra team will make the tournament from a year ago, that number now at 11.

Will it help the locals? Both BG and Souhegan have lost their goalies, Abby Houle (Cards) and Makayla Lachance (Sabers) to graduation, so younger understudies will have baptism by fire. Guertin coach Scott Ciszek, whose team opens Saturday vs. Westford at Skate 3 in Tyngsborough, Mass., calls it “a large hurdle for us.”

Guertin had a disappointing ending to the season a year ago, missing some key players in losing to Oyster River in the quarterfinals. Souhegan, meanwhile, recorded its first tourney win ever, coming over St. Thomas-Winnacunnet, and gave dynasty Hanover (nine straight titles, including the last two over Exeter) a game for two periods on the road.

But the Sabers, who begin Wednesday night at Concord, return a top player in senior scorer Shannon Paquette. She enters the season 12 points shy of a career 100, which would make her the first Saber to ever reach that mark.

“To have a player reach that milestone, it’s great for a program an it’s history, from where we’ve come,” Braley said.

Despite losing goaltender Houle, the Cards do have key forward-defenseman Lindsay Hult back along with a few other regulars.

Here’s a capsule look at how both teams shape up:

BISHOP GUERTIN

COACH: Scott Ciszek (fifth year)

LAST SEASON: 13-6, lost to Oyster River-Portsmouth in quarterfinals.

RETURNING PLAYERS: Lindsay Hult, so.fd; Annalise Reed, jr. def; Allyson McMahon, so.def; Brooke Yabroudy, so.fd; McKaela Meaney, sr. fd; Brianna DeFilice, jr.fd; Emma Wallat, sr.; Hayley Kastner, so.fd.

PROMISING NEWCOMERS: Julie McLaughlin, fr. fd; Mackenzie Husson, fr. def.

COACH’S COMMENTS: “Missing Abbey Houle this year is going to be a large hurdle for us,” Ciszek said. “We have a couple of freshmen that will likely have a significant impact on the team.”

SOUHEGAN

COACH: Kelli Braley (seventh year).

LAST SEASON: 11-9, lost to Hanover in the quarterfinals.

RETURNING PLAYERS: Shannon Paquettte, sr. fd; Clare Woodford, jr. def; Ryleigh Tobin, jr. fd; Julia Pinkham, jr. def; McCallister McBride, jr. fd.; Mary Simonne Dodge, jr. fd; Gabrielle Byram, jr. goalie; Abigail Hawkes, so.fd.-def; Caroline Apiki, sr. fd; Karissa Bryant, so.fd; Alena Zsofka, so. Fd; Adriana Milton, jr. fd.

PROMISING NEWCOMERS: Avery Karavas, so.df; Bella Blood, jr. def; Maddie Daniel, fr. fd.

COACH’S COMMENTS: “I’m excited with the core group coming back,” Braley said, “especially with Shannon coming back and the supporting players are the same. The juniors this year are ready to take on the responsibility.”