BOSTON -- To become state champions, teams need their best players and their leaders to come through. On Sunday afternoon, the Tewksbury/Methuen girls hockey team had a long list of them, but certainly two had heroic and now historic performances.
After junior goalie Kaia Hollingsworth stole the show by making four 10-bell saves in the first overtime period, her teammate, senior captain Carolyn Curley, scored off her own rebound with 9:53 left in the second overtime to give the Red Rangers a 2-1 dramatic victory over previously unbeaten and top-seeded Austin Prep in the Division 1 state championship game at the TD Garden.
This is the first title since the two schools merged in the 2012-13 season and it’s also the first co-op team to ever win a state title.
The Red Rangers (22-1-1), who were defeated in last year’s state final by Woburn, trailed 1-0 until less than nine minutes left in the third period when Julia Masotta scored her 50th goal of the season.
The beautiful goal, assisted by Cassidy Gruning, seemed to give the team a spark until the Cougars (23-0-1) took that momentum in the first 12-minute overtime period. That’s when Hollingsworth stole at least four goals away from Austin Prep, two on gorgeous glove saves, another on a kickout save from the low slot, and the other coming when she made a low right leg stop to stuff Austin Prep talented eighth-grader Samantha Taber of Tewksbury on a breakaway.
Those saves allowed the Red Rangers to survive the first OT. After a break to clean the ice, it took just 3:07 before Curley found the back of the net.
“I don’t remember too much,” she said. “I just remember seeing the rebound and shooting it and then there was another rebound and I saw the net was wide open and I just tapped it in. I had to scramble to go get it and I fell after I shot because I didn’t have good body position. I just tapped it and it bounced the right way.”
After that, her teammates, fatigued and all, piled up on her in celebration.
“It was so relieving,” Curley said. “I was so tired. I lied down on the ice and (teammate) Cassidy Gruning came up and just jumped on top of me and it was like, ‘Could we just lay here for a minute?’ It was a great feeling. I had never felt like that before in my entire life.”
Curley, a team captain, has been with the program for six years and surpassed the 100-point plateau last year as a junior. She helped the team reach the state final but after skating off the ice with the heartaches of the loss, she said there was no way that was going to happen again.
“Last year we were all pretty nervous and then when we lost we were all pretty upset,” she said. “We were psyched to come back and we weren’t going to let this one go. This is all that has been on our minds for the past two seasons. Even after we lost last year, one of the first things we said was we would be back here this year.”
While Curley will be the one who is remembered for the game winner, it was Hollingsworth who allowed that opportunity to happen. The Methuen resident stopped 40 shots in all.
″(She was) incredible, just incredible,” said head coach Sarah Oteri. “I said to her and to the team that she chose a great day to have her best game. We needed to have a big game from her. We told her that before the game that (Austin Prep) would get shots on her. They are a talented team so they are going to get opportunities, and she just played so, so strong. It was just awesome.”
Taber caused a lot of problems for the Red Rangers’ defense all game and created a number of scoring opportunities. She was denied by two big saves by Hollingsworth in the first period and also had a few more legitimate bid late, including that breakaway coming with about 2:30 left in the first OT.
“Their goalie did a great job,” said AP head coach Stephanie Wood. “She made some great saves on shots that could have been a game winner on our end. She kept them in it. We controlled play at times. This was not our best game. We played pretty well, but their goalie stole the game.”
Oteri, who has guided the team to four straight league titles and three straight deep state tournament runs, now has a four-year record of 80-7-9.