By Jim Sullivan
---- — The Masconomet girls hockey team will be returning home tonight — home to Newburyport, that is.
The Chieftains, a co-op of players from Newburyport, Triton, North Andover, Hamilton-Wenham and Georgetown, will be taking on Medford at 5 p.m. at the Graf Rink as part of a Masco doubleheader. The Masconomet boys will face off against the Clippers at 7.
But for many of the lady Chieftains, tonight’s game is their first chance to shine in front of their own hometown crowd.
“We just want to raise awareness of girls hockey in this area,” said Masco girls hockey coach Nicole Twomey, an Amesbury resident and teacher in the Newburyport school system. “Girls hockey is here, and it’s here to stay.”
The Chieftains will also be rasing awareness for cancer research. While their game will be free to all, donations for the American Cancer Society will be accepted at the door, something that Twomey is very proud of since she has been trying to get her girls to be more civic-minded.
“We just feel, as a coaching staff, that cancer has touched many people’s lives,” said Twomey. “It is a very easily relatable cause, and we certainly wanted to give back.”
But the big draw for the girls, who normally play out of the Talbot Rink in Gloucester, will be the first chance to play in front of a bigger crowd. Sophomore right wing Ashley Hodge (granddaughter and daughter of Boston Bruins’ alumni Ken Hodge and Ken Hodge Jr.) relishes the idea of playing in front of more than just her parents this time around.
“I’m really excited,” Hodge said. “I’m really looking forward to it. We don’t have to drive far, and maybe we will get some fans that we actually know. That’s always a good thing. It drives me to play better and helps me focus more. I hope some people will go a little bit crazy for us.”
The Newburyport boys hockey team has enjoyed a crazier than usual fan base this season, thanks to some body paint and creative chants. That is exactly the atmosphere Twomey wants to expose her players to.
“Newburyport boys hockey has always had a very strong fan base,” said Twomey. “So, absolutely, I’d love to tap into their fan base a little (and) it made sense to, rather than going to Haverhill (where the Masco boys play), to play it at the Graf. We can really pack the fans in, and even if there aren’t that many, it will end up looking like more people are there. It’s just a good rink in that Newburyport and Triton house their youth programs there. So it seemed to make sense. If there’s a rink up here in the Cape Ann League, the Graf is it.”
This season has been not only the first for Twomey as head coach, but the first where the Chieftains can skate more than one line. Things have been going nicely as they sit on an 8-3-0 record so far.
“This has been a big year for us, the program has changed quite a bit, and I’ve been extremely happy,” said Twomey. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to be there for my first year. For the challenges we’ve faced as a team this year, we’ve overcome them, and I think that we continue to get better.”
Speaking of improving, tonight represents a chance for the Chieftains to get a little something back in a rematch with the Mustangs, who are one of the three blemishes on their record. Medford posted a 3-1 victory over Masco Jan. 7, and two of the Mustangs’ goals came on the power play.
“Out of our three losses, there are two that we certainly want to get back,” said Twomey. “And luckily, we get to get one of them back (tonight). This will be a different game (too), we will be playing in our home rink and hopefully playing in front of a ton of fans.”
More fans and more players are what Hodge is hoping for.
“More girls should join the team,” said Hodge. “More girls should play. This is only my second year on the team, and I think that if more people know about it now, the better.”