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Young Hillers girls hockey co-op team finds its stride

by | Jan 23, 2023 | Sports

Hopkinton High School girls ice hockey coach Nick Grout wanted his team to have more than two victories through the first half of the schedule, but Grout said the young roster made up of athletes from four schools is coming together in time to turn some heads down the stretch.

“We have a very, very young team and a melting pot of different schools coming together, it leads to an interesting start to the season,” Grout said. “They are getting to know each other, it’s not like they see each other in the halls for three months before the season starts.”

Hopkinton also has dealt with some injuries, but the roster has been getting healthier and the top players have stood out throughout the schedule. Senior Bianca Musgrave moved to defense for the second straight season in order to help fill out the blue line.

“She really does a great job,” Grout said. “She has such a positive attitude. She is one of our four captains and she is willing to roll with the punches.”

Freshman Mary Finnegan has made an immediate impact in her first season, playing on Hopkinton’s top two lines from day one.

“She is a quiet freshman and we are slowly letting her feel things out at the high school level and get some confidence playing against girls that are four years older than her,” Grout said.

Kaley Merkle is hoping to get through the season unscathed after battling injuries earlier in her career. Grout said having her back has given the Hillers a strong lift on defense. Freshman Callie Arthur has filled out the top four on defense when she has been healthy. After Arthur missed some time with an illness, Grout said the team was happy to get her back in a game against Leominster earlier this season.

“She is such a positive, happy kid, the type of player you love to coach,” he said. “She comes to practice every day and, no matter how hard or easy it was, says ‘Thank you’ at the end. She is really a joy to have around the team.”

Despite being a freshman, Arthur has taken on a leadership role and helped some of the other young players feel more comfortable on the co-op team, which includes athletes from Nipmuc, Blackstone Valley Tech and Dover-Sherborn along with Hopkinton.

Senior captain Hailey Cox has been a “rock steady” presence for the Hillers in her final season.

“She is consistent,” Grout said. “You know what you’re going to get, day in and day out, there is very little fluctuation in her game.”

The second half of the season includes Hopkinton’s ovarian cancer awareness game on Jan. 28 against Dedham. It’s a tradition that began four years ago as a player’s mother was battling the disease, and Grout said the Hillers are the first hockey program in the country to do an ovarian cancer fundraiser. The Hillers close the regular season Feb. 22 against Algonquin, and Grout said playing the defending state champ is something he hopes will provide a good test for his team going into the playoffs.

Grout said this year’s squad is the deepest he has had in more than a decade and there is plenty of top-end talent to lead the way. As Hopkinton makes the turn for home, Grout is hopeful that he has not seen the best his team has to offer.

“I don’t think we have played our best hockey yet, I really don’t,” he said. “I see sparks of it. I see 15 minutes here and there, but I don’t think we have put together a full 45-minute game. Hopefully a couple of wins help build our confidence.”

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