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ConVal-Conant girls win milestone game over Manchester Central

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ConVal-Conant senior captain Izabella Leahigh skates with the puck against Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ConVal-Conant’s Tessa Spingola and Kayla Gauthier pile up in front of the Manchester Central net as Gauthier sneaks the puck in for a goal on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal-Conant girls' hockey team hosted Manchester Central on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Sunday, January 06, 2019 1:58PM

It was a banner week for the ConVal-Conant girls’ hockey team, as the Griffins beat Kingswood twice and then beat Manchester Central 8-2 on Saturday for the first three-win season in program history.

“This week we’ve won more games than in our previous six years, so I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said second-year head coach Chris Spingola.

It was a first for the Griffins, and in celebration, Spingola did something he’d never done before, either. He’d promised the team he’d do a cartwheel at center ice if the Griffins won three games, and true to his word, he procured a small carpet for safety, steeled himself, and turned a passable cartwheel in front of his cheering team.

“I thought he was crazy,” said senior captain Izabella Leahigh. “I thought he was going to miss the carpet. It was awesome. I have never had a coach ever say they were going to do something if we won a certain amount of games, and I thought that was really good support on a coach’s part.”

Leahigh and Ruth Ellis are the final two holdouts from the pre-Griffins era, playing as freshmen on the Courtney McKay-coached ConVal Cougars team. The team’s numbers were bolstered by the merger with Conant three  years ago, and since then, the sky’s been the limit for the Griffins.

“Last year alone, preseason, I saw the amount of potential in the team itself, and it was amazing,” Leahigh said. “I’ve never seen people come together that quick. I knew in my last two years as an ice hockey player we were going to accomplish something good. And we did. We finally got three games, that’s more than in ConVal history.”

The Griffins took the ice against Manchester Central Saturday morning, some of the team running on fumes after pulling an all-nighter for ConVal’s band and chorus fundraiser Rock-a-thon. Still, ConVal-Conant jumped out to a 2-0 lead after first-period goals from Abby Drew and Kayla Gauthier.

“They passed the puck well today, they were confident, they weren’t afraid to skate it,” Spingola said. “When you play against Exeter and Concord, you don’t get that opportunity to skate the puck. Against Manchester and Kingswood, we were able to pick our heads up, come out of the zone and make a nice pass and keep moving. That was a big change for us.”

Central, winless on the year with only one goal coming into Saturday’s game, had cause to celebrate as well. Little Green star Cassidy Lavigne took advantage of a pair of Griffin miscues early on. The first made it 2-1; after Abby Drew scored her second goal on an easy tap in, Lavigne answered back and made it 3-2 midway through the second period. And with Central keeper Danyela Poore (26 saves) handling whatever the Griffins threw at her, it looked like the Little Green were going to make a game of it.

“Their goalie was very good,” Spingola said. “She stopped a lot of our shots from our big girls. That girl turned away a ton of them. Where we ended up beating them was on the breakaway.”

Indeed, the Griffins were able to get out on open ice several times as Central tired in the second period. Haylie Drew sliced her way to the corner, where she was tripped up, but flung the puck towards the net from her knees, and Izzy Ketchersid tapped it home. Then, Abby Drew broke away for her third goal of the game, and as time was expiring in the second, Haylie Drew sped to the net and punched one more home with just 0.01 on the clock.

ConVal-Conant would add goals from Alessia Coburn and a fourth from Abby Drew in the third period, as the Griffins simply had more depth than the fledgling Central team.

“Our third line (Mackenzie Gauthier, Sabrina Leahigh, and Cassam Abitz) has always kind of been a wild card for us,” Spingola said. “Today, I had no issue with putting our third line out. I knew they were going to play their position and work hard. And after that I knew we had two other lines of experienced players. Being able to have nine girls that I can be confident in on my front line makes my life a lot easier. I have five great defensemen, and I’m not scared to put anybody out there.”

Abbi Friend made eight saves in net for the Griffins in the 8-2 victory. 

ConVal-Conant is now 3-6 and through the easiest part of their schedule (Kingswood and Central are a combined 1-9, with the only win between the two a Kingswood win over Central). They’ll return to action next Saturday against Souhegan (3-1-1) and then play three undefeated teams – Exeter, Concord and Oyster River – in a row. But Izabella Leahigh and her team aren’t satisfied with peaking during Saturday’s win. 

“Winning these three games, winning this game, has built our confidence a lot,” Leahigh said. “I think games going forward, we can probably win. We could probably win two more, honestly. The confidence these games give us makes us want to try harder, and we know we can win. Now that we have this confidence, we know we can beat some people.”

A couple more wins, and Spingola may really need to start practicing the cartwheel.

“It could have been a little straighter,” Leahigh said. “He was kind of falling all over himself.”