WOBURN – There is one word to describe the Woburn High girls’ hockey team, heading into the start of the 2019-20 season: intriguing.

The Tanners are just one season removed from being two-time MIAA Div. 1 state champions, but with the departure of top defenseman Sophia Gregory to Bishop Fenwick, there is only one key player from that squad remaining, senior goalie Amanda Essigmann.

The intrigue starts with a switch at the top, with long-time assistant coach Steve Kennedy moving into the role of interim head coach, while Bob MacCurtain will now be the top assistant. Kennedy got a taste of the head job, last year, when MacCurtain had to step aside for a couple weeks to deal with family matters, so the idea of this did not come out of nowhere.

Of course, while the stars of the championship team have mostly moved on, others have seen their career blossom since, including defenseman Erin McComiskey and forward Mackenzie Russo, not to mention the impact made by last year’s new players, Jackie Lees, ML Pineros and Lily Anderson, who all ended up making Woburn’s top line.

Essigmann will be one of the three senior captains, along with McComiskey and Lees. Essigmann has already had a fantastic career, and she still has one more year. She will be a stable force in net.

“The team will look to its seniors for leadership and all three have already stepped into the role,” said Kennedy. “They are providing an example for the younger players to follow, both on and off the ice.”

Another part of the intrigue for Woburn will be the makeup of its defense. With Gregory gone from the defense, the Tanners have decided to break up their top line and put Lees and Anderson back on defense as part of a three-player rotation, something that has worked well for Woburn in the past. That puts two more great skaters in back, with Lees and Anderson both having the ability to go on the attack, not that far unlike the way it was two years ago.

In order to make this work, the coaches must have something up their sleeve in terms of forwards, and they do in the way of some talented freshmen, highlighted by twins Angelina DiGirolamo and Lucia DiGirolamo. Two other freshmen to watch are Katie Pica and Meaghan Keough.

“We have a talented group of incoming freshmen who are all expected to make an impact,” said Kennedy. “We expect to see them all get a lot of playing time and factor largely into the season.”

The top line headed into Saturday’s opener against Burlington will include juniors Mackenzie Russo, Bella Shaw and Kelsey Ficociello. Woburn’s other forwards who will also factor into the offense are sophomore ML Pineros, junior Aly Haggerty and junior Gianna Halajian.

“The experience of the junior class will also be an essential element to the team’s success,” said Kennedy.

The mix of classes and skills at all three areas of the ice give the Tanners the potential to have a big season.

“This is a high-character and unselfish group of players who have a team-first mindset,” said Kennedy. “They are hardworking and we hope to see those two qualities remain at the forefront as we navigate the season.”

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