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Girls’ hockey: Scarborough short on numbers, but off to a fast start

Scarborough girls’ hockey coach Taylor Fowler writes on a white board while her team looks on during practice at Cross Insurance Arena on Thursday. The team is off to a 4-1 start despite having just 13 players. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


Tape to tape. Tick-tack. Tick-tack.GORHAM — The puck moves quickly as the Scarborough High girls’ hockey team begins a practice at the University of Southern Maine.

Skate fast. Pass fast. It is as much a conditioning drill as anything else. And the Red Storm need all the conditioning they can get.

Scarborough’s girls’ ice hockey team has only 13 players: 11 skaters and two goalies.

“Our biggest battle this year is going to be conditioning and hockey legs,” said Coach Taylor Fowler. “You can never condition them enough for such a small bench.”

This a big drop from the 2019-20 season, when the Red Storm had 20 skaters and one goalie on a team that went 15-1-2 in the regular season and advanced to the regional championship game, or even from last year’s shortened pandemic season when they had 18 skaters and one goalie on a team that played three games.

But it also reflects a growing trend in girls’ hockey: Since the 2017-18 season, when the sport hit its peak in Maine with 457 girls competing, the numbers have steadily dropped. In the 2019-20 season – the last for which participation numbers are available – only 384 girls participated.

Evelyn Boardman leads Scarborough with nine goals, including two in a 4-1 victory over Lewiston, the top team in the North region. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

As small as Scarborough’s roster is, the Red Storm are off to a fast start. At 4-1, they are the top-ranked team in the South region, riding a four-game winning streak that includes last week’s 4-2 win over Lewiston, the top-ranked team in the North.

“I think it was a really big confidence booster,” said senior center Evelyn Boardman, who leads Scarborough with nine goals, including two in the Lewiston game. “And it will give us a mentality we need to go into other games and come out with a win. It showed how we can really play.”

Scarborough practices and plays its home games at the USM Ice Arena, with Cross Insurance Arena in Portland serving as a secondary practice site. The team’s only loss came in its opener, a 6-1 decision to Cheverus/Old Orchard Beach/Kennebunk/Windham.

Scarborough girls’ hockey goaltender A.J. Swett catches a puck during practice at Cross Insurance Arena on Thursday. The senior has two shutouts this season. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Boardman and Swett are among nine seniors on the roster, which was filled when they recruited four sophomores to join. They pretty much talked to every teammate they’ve had on other sports teams at Scarborough. “We went around asking, ‘Do you want to play hockey?'” said senior wing Meagan Donovan, who leads the Red Storm in scoring with 11 points (five goals, six assists).“The first game, I think we went in with a wrong mentality,” said senior goalie A.J. Swett, who has two shutouts. “I don’t think we were mentally prepared for what was coming at us. After that we came in a lot more humble and thought of ourselves as, a little bit, as underdogs.”

Those sophomores, which include three first-time hockey players, have improved dramatically. “The newer players are showing a lot more confidence, which is helping us be successful,” said Fowler.

And she credits the seniors with some of that. “They’re all very good at coaching the younger players,” said Fowler. “Quite often during practice you’ll see (the seniors) take them aside.”

Having a short bench means short shifts, smart plays and few penalties. Scarborough has only taken nine penalties in its first five games. “We’re not less aggressive, but smarter,” said Donovan. “With no retaliation. We’ve been told that since the beginning of the year.”

Senior Lillian Finley is one of just three defensemen on the Scarborough girls’ hockey team. “When someone’s tired, we tell them to give yourself a minute, breath a little and then do whatever you can to help the team,” she says. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer
Most important, said Finley, is that you look out for each other.At times, Swett will tie up the puck on a rebound to give her teammates a breather. Senior Lillian Finley, one of three defensemen on the team, said it’s important to get the puck in deep in the offensive end, so the defensemen can get a breather. Forwards Donovan and Boardman say quick passing saves strides and keeps legs fresher.

“If you’re out there for longer than a minute, we know you’re going to need a longer recovery time,” said Finley. “And when someone’s tired, we tell them to give yourself a minute, breathe a little and then do whatever you can to help the team.”

The specter of next year already hangs over this team. With only four players returning, it is possible that this might be the final season the school plays as a stand-alone team. Of the 16 girls’ ice hockey teams in the state, only five are single-school teams: Lewiston, Brunswick, Greely, Falmouth and Scarborough.

If this is going to be the final year as a stand-alone school, the seniors want to make sure this is going to be a memorable season.

“We’ve all thought about it,” said Swett. “We want to make sure we leave it in a good place and we’re proud of what we’ve left behind.”

But Athletic Director Mike LeGage said it’s far too early to start thinking that way.

“In my experience you don’t know what’s going to happen year to year in high school athletics,” he said. “So we’re just take it a step at a time with that. … Certainly we’re hoping we can continue on as we have been and younger kids will step up and keep it going.”