PHS Sophomore Emily Kumph (18) heads towards the goal in a breakaway.
As the Oyster River-Portsmouth (ORP) Girls Hockey Team stepped onto the ice on Monday February 8th to face off against the Exeter High School Girls Hockey team. Having just come off of a two game losing streak, giving them a 4-2 winning record, against the undefeated Bishop Guertin. Having not played Exeter since last year’s quarter finals win and having lost some valuable senior starters, ORP was warming up for a very important game. By playing less one-on-one hockey and through strong communication and passing, ORP was able to pull out a 3-2 victory. “Exeter has always been a fun team to play. In the last two years we’ve had somewhat even teams which makes for a good match up,” said one of the team’s captains Jenna Young (‘22).
Kate Deans (63) avoids a collision between Kelly Zhang (9) and an Exeter Player while taking the puck up the ice.
In the first period of the game, both teams battled hard, keeping the game 0-0. Natalie Lessard (‘22), an ORHS defensive player suffered what was later diagnosed as a concussion from hitting the boards. The first goal of the game was scored late in the second period by ORP player, Kate Deans (‘23), off of a rebound shot from Annika Kell (‘22). Deans is one of ORP’s forward wing players. “It’s always good when we score first because it gets us riled up and excited,” said Lessard on the first goal.
Kelly Zhang (9) takes a shot on goal.
At the start of the third and final period, Exeter got their first goal, tying the game 1-1.
However, within minutes Kelly Zhang (‘23) scored ORP’s second goal, putting them in the lead again. This season Zhang has stepped into a position as a top-line center, meaning it is now her responsibility to take faceoffs. “I’m honored to have this position and hold myself to a high degree of responsibility because I’m the first to touch the puck and the draw sets the pace of our play,” said Zhang.
ORP celebrates at the end of the game.
Lessard took a shot late in the third period, giving ORP a 3-1 lead on Exeter. Then, with just over a minute left in the game, Exeter scored their last goal, cementing the Clipper Cats a 3-2 victory. “We never gave up,” said Deans. “We knew it would be a really back and forth game but we kept our heads during the game and came out on top.”
Captain Jenna Young (37) looks for a teammate to pass to.
The hockey season is formatted differently this year, with teams playing in only one division due to COVID-19 restrictions causing ORP to face teams they wouldn’t generally play. Young explained some of the challenges the team has had to face this year. “We have a little bit of trouble finding a connection with each other, but the fundamentals are there. I think with time and more game experience that component of the game will come,” said Young. With each team, the strategy of game play changes depending on how the other team plays. “For that game, we were trying to be more aggressive with the puck. Exeter has a few big and fast players. We were focusing on winning those 50-50 battles and getting low to take hits,” explained Young.
Sophomore goalie Amèlie Cowieson (31) makes a save.
“It felt good to know that as long as we work together and give all our effort we can beat them, and it’s great to see the team bond together and have each other’s backs,” said Deans. A big part of the ORP team is the enforcement of good sportsmanship. “We are just highschoolers playing a game and while we still want to be competitive, being a good person comes first,” said Lessard. This goal carried over into the game, since Exeter had 9 penalties within the game. “They were a really chippy and physical team, but we didn’t start retaliating. As our coach says, we got them back where it really counts, which is on the scoreboard,” said Deans.
Natalie Lessard (6) takes the puck up ice and towards the goal.
According to players, this season is surprisingly “on par” with their season last year. “People were expecting this to be a rebuild year, but we have been doing surprisingly well,” said Lessard. Due to the loss of some key starters, including their two starting wings, from the class of 2020, many players, like Zhang, have had to step into new positions to help the team. “Many players are stepping up to fill these positions. I’m proud of our team and how we’ve played so far in the season,” said Zhang. As the season progresses the players on ORP have been working hard to play their best.
ORP players support their teammates during the game.
With five games left in their season, ORP Hockey’s next game is away on February 17th against Souhegan. The team is hopeful that, with the rest of their season, they will continue to grow. “Since we made it to the semifinals last year, it would be really rewarding to make it that far again this year. If we really work hard, we might be able to make it further,” said Deans.