She was just a fourth-line grinder whom her hockey coach hardly remembers as a freshman. And her role in the social realm of high school felt just as mysterious.
To some, there was hardly an indication that Molly Connolly (inset) would help the Wellesley High girls’ hockey program resurface to breathe greatness for the first time since 2006.
But her three brothers might have known all along: Molly was a tomboy — one with special talent. She could take care of herself. She could be anything she wanted to be.
And now, with 27 goals in 11 games this season, the 5-foot-10 senior forward is the most dangerous scoring threat in the state on an undefeated Raiders squad.
“She was good at anything she picked up,” said oldest brother Will, a 21-year-old junior at Dartmouth who spent his first two years on the Big Green football team after graduating from St. Sebastian’s.
“She’d be right in there with us. She wasn’t afraid to try to compete. And even though we wouldn’t admit it, she’s the most talented one.”
Molly was one of the boys, referred to as just another brother — “which I wasn’t thankful for for a while,” she said — and the only girl on the town’s hockey teams.
Ice hockey, field hockey, lacrosse, baseball, softball, football — she played anything that her brothers played, determined to be more than just a practice dummy.
Will remembers how a night off for little sis would go: “If she had the choice of watching a Bruins game or going shopping, she would choose to watch the Bruins,” he said.
“It’s obviously tough being the only girl with three brothers. I’m sure we rubbed off on her a little bit. The three of us [Will, along with Jack , 19, and Mikey , 14] worked hard, but she was the most talented of any of us. Even just playing Wiffle ball — her hand-eye coordination was unbelievable.”
The eyes of a high school freshman can shed truth, with fear and empty hope tied into one very uncertain look.
Molly Connolly had that look.
“Honestly, I never saw it coming,” Wellesley senior captain Sarah Guarente said of Connolly’s sudden rise to stardom.
Unsure if she’d even make the hockey team, Connolly was eventually slotted onto the fourth line by coach George Campbell .
As Campbell recalls, the fourth line of a girls’ hockey team was used about as often as a snowbrush in Alabama.
“We used to have one good line and a half-decent second line,” Campbell said.
Campbell has been coaching at Wellesley since the beginning of the program in 1999, and coaching girls’ hockey since he started the team at Boston Latin in 1996. So forgive the parts of his memory that resemble Swiss cheese.
Here’s Campbell’s recollection of Connolly’s impact as a freshman four years ago: “She wanted to be a defenseman. She told us she had always been a defenseman, through every level.”
Here’s Connolly’s version: “No, I’ve never played defense.”
Connolly’s freshman campaign can hardly be remembered by anyone anymore. Because after that season, the fear in her eyes was replaced with determination.
“I don’t know what happened,” Connolly said. “I can’t pinpoint what changed. But there was something that changed between freshman and sophomore year, and I started to realize, ‘I’m a good hockey player.’ ”
With confidence came domination.
“I knew it for sure that last game sophomore year,” Guarante said. “We were in the tournament, and we lost, but she scored all five goals in the last two periods.
“That was the start of it. She’s been awesome ever since.”
Connolly’s game is so complete, trying to determine what part of it she’s best at is like comparing lobsters from neighboring restaurants on the Cape. They’re all full of flavor and hard to crack.
“She has the scoring touch — that’s what sets her apart,” Campbell said. “She has a selection of shots — they’re all great. She’ll throw in a backhander if she has to. She knows when to shoot, how to shoot, when to pass. She’s equally valuable in the neutral zone and defensive zone as she is when she’s scoring.
“She’s scoring goals on opportunities that other girls would hit the goalie or miss the net. She’s one of those kids that are doing things that no coach ever taught her.”
Connolly’s slap shot can pick corners. Guarante says it happens all the time in practice. But Connolly has also dished out 12 assists through Wellesley’s 9-0-3 start. Paired up with electric sophomores Keely Corscadden and Cecily Docktor , Connolly has led a ferocious Raiders’ team that has scored 66 goals, third-most in Eastern Massachusetts.
Connolly has been off the ice the last two games — a 2-2 tie against Newton North Saturday and Wednesday’s matchup against Walpole — following a two-game suspension after a hit-from-behind penalty Jan. 23 against Braintree, a 1-1 tie. After reviewing the tape, Wellesley High athletic director John Brown deemed the penalty a mistake. Connolly said she was tripped by her own player’s stick and fell into the Braintree player, who was carted off the ice with a minor shoulder injury. Connolly was thankful there were no major injuries.
She has committed to Amherst College, where she hopes to play field hockey and ice hockey while studying in the liberal arts school. She’s thinking she might want to major in writing. Writing her own story would be easy, she figures.
“I think I’ve changed more than I ever thought I would,” she said. “I’m really thankful for the chances I got.
“I would write about how I came into high school as a timid, scared freshman. And I left as someone who was ready to attack the world.”
Russo shines in goal
With 6-foot-1 senior goalie Nick Russo providing stellar play between the pipes, the Waltham High boys have allowed just 1.29 goals per game (18 goals in 14 games), second-best in Division 1 only to Reading, which has allowed 1.27 goals per game.
The Hawks are 8-4-2 after serving Andover a 4-0 shutout on Saturday in which Russo made 30 saves. “He takes up a lot of the net ,” said coach John Maguire . “He takes good angles, makes himself big and tries to keep it simple. Some goalies have tried to do too much. He just keeps it simple.”
Here and there
Sophomore forward Emily Loprete continues to shine for Watertown/Melrose with 22 goals and seven assists in 13 games. . . . The Lincoln-Sudbury boys remained undefeated with a 1-0 shutout of Concord-Carlisle on Saturday. Senior captain Jordan Dow leads the team with 21 goals and eight assists.