WATERTOWN — As soon as the puck dropped for a second-period face-off between Watertown/Melrose and Arlington on Monday night, Emily Loprete took an unconventional approach, forgoing a chance to win possession by whacking the puck forward.
The flip of the puck off the boards to herself wasn’t selfish. It was the right pass.
Loprete slithered past an Arlington center and churned her feet up ice, where she beat another defenseman and fired a wrister that went just wide of the net. Her arms dropped and she let the blade of her stick bounce on the ice. Frustration sank in. It was a rare opportunity in the preliminary-round game in the Division 1 girls’ tournament, in which Loprete was monitored more closely than a child at a pool party.
The frustration wasn’t new. It was a staple in Loprete’s 36-goal, 16-assist season.
And now, with the Watertown/Melrose co-op program being split into separate teams by the Middlesex League for next season, the opportunities for the talented sophomore to play at a private school continue to present themselves.
“It’s more of a challenge for myself here,” a somber Loprete said after the Raiders’ 2-0 loss to Arlington that ended their season.
As indicated by her attempt to turn a defensive-zone face-off into a goal-scoring opportunity, the 5-foot-3 forward loves a challenge.
“No disrespect to the rest of the team,” said Woburn coach Bob MacCurtain , “but she was the person we really focused on when we played them,’’ a 4-0 win for the Tanners on Jan. 16. “I think individually there’s a little pressure on her to produce there.”
Each time Loprete was close to the puck Monday night, even when Arlington was ahead 2-0, the Spy Ponder fans in the bleachers were watching as intently was a jury during an important trial.
“Don’t let her touch it,” the yelling often went, with nervous mothers and anxious fathers jumping up from their seats.
Arlington defensemen played Loprete like they were roasting a marshmallow, keeping their stick as close to the fire as possible without getting burned.
Her every move is calculated. At the first sign of a defender turning one way, Loprete will follow for a heartbeat, just enough time to make the opponent think she guessed right. Then a quick move to the other side and Loprete is free.
“It’s just a split second,” she said. “And then I’ll move the kid the other way.”
Throughout Monday’s game, Arlington coach Jeff Mead was monitoring Loprete’s ice time. As soon as she jumped off the bench, Arlington senior Hannah Wright , one of the area’s top defenseman who will play for Castleton State next year, hopped over the boards to shadow her.
Wherever Loprete was going, Wright would be there.
“She was the most talented kid on the ice in my opinion,” said Mead, whose wife, Kerstin Matthews, is the head coach at Saint Anselm College, one of a number of college programs that might have an interest in Loprete.
“She’s impressive to watch. She can do a lot by herself.”
Watertown/Melrose senior Jane Grzelcyk and junior Haley Gorman , who share the captain’s role with Loprete, say that whatever frustration Loprete feels while getting double-, triple- or sometimes quadruple-teamed, she causes much more for those trying to defend her.
“In practice I don’t even try, I just stand there,” Gorman said. “It’s actually fun to watch.”
The term “hothead” has been thrown around in the dissection of Loprete’s game, but Raiders coach Steve Russo puts it simply: “She’s not a hot head. I mean, yeah, after you get slashed five, six, seven, eight, nine times, yeah you might give a little back. But she doesn’t go after kids. She’s a gamer.”
Following Monday’s loss to Arlington, the Raiders sat in the locker room for 40 minutes before Russo was told they were still in uniform. They didn’t want to take them off.
Led by Loprete, a rare captain as an underclassman who carries the same leadership mantle with the Watertown High field hockey and lacrosse teams, the Raiders made up in passion what they lacked in talent. They finished 13-8-2 in a season when they were predicted by some Middlesex foes to win four games.
Now the co-op squad will split. The girls were devastated. They say the team’s bond is something that’s unmatched.
And Loprete, if she comes back to play for Watertown (she’s undecided, but leaning toward staying), will join the coach’s daughter, junior Marisa Russo , as the only two returning varsity players on their high school’s team.
In theory, staying on a public school team that won’t field a full squad without a middle school waiver will hinder Loprete’s ability to improve.
Tell that to someone who averaged 1.5 goals per game while being at the core of every opponent’s scouting report.
“A lot of people are looking at her,” Russo said.
Good thing Loprete usually sees them first.
Around the rink
Jeff Mead laughs at those who told him Arlington wouldn’t be competitive after the graduation of All-Scholastic goalie Casey Schaejbe . The replacement, junior Katie Gilligan , has a 2.00 goals-against average after posting a shutout Monday over Watertown/Melrose. “That’s not an easy person to follow,” the coach said. “And she’s doing really well.”
Acton-Boxborough Regional ended the regular season with a freshman as its leading scorer. Megan Barrett netted 16 goals and 23 assists in 21 games. “She’s just a smart hockey player who is always in the right spot” said coach Brian Fontas .
It was a good week for the Medfield boys, who earned the No. 1 seed in the Division 3 South bracket and had senior Johnny Monahan (0.95 GAA, .961 save percentage) earn Goalie of the Year honors in the Tri-Valley League. “We take care of our own end, and good things come from that,” said coach Toby Carlow .
Franklin High senior Aiden Isberg found timely scoring to lead the Panthers with 15 goals. But coach Chris Spillane early last week insisted his team’s chances in the Division 2 South sectional rests with senior Cam Curley , who hit a scoring slump midyear and finished the regular season season with 13 goals. “Cam is coming around again,” Spillane said. “And we need to score four goals a game to win games.”