Playoffs or bust

When Caree Pitts was a freshman, she received some disheartening news.

Pitts, now a senior, has played ice hockey since a young age, and when she lived in Florida, she played roller hockey on a boys team.

But when she started at Souhegan High School, she heard people talk about the state of the Sabers’ girls ice hockey program, and the news wasn’t good.

“When I came into the school, everyone was saying the girls hockey team is terrible,” Pitts said. “Our grade, this senior class, we’re the ones that have really turned it around. We knew we wanted to win by the end of high school.”

It wasn’t long ago that the word ‘win’ could be associated in any way with the Sabers. Before last season, the team’s most recent one had been a forfeit when the opposing team didn’t have a goalie. But a year ago, Souhegan not only won one game, it won three.

This year, the Sabers have already topped that. Going into Tuesday night’s game at Berlin/Gorham, Souhegan was 4-3, and if the playoffs started now, it would be seeded sixth.

“Every year I’ve coached them, they’ve taken a step forward,” Souhegan coach Kelli Warecki said. “I want to see this team in the playoffs. I think this team can be in the playoffs. For however long that run goes, who knows, but that’s definitely our goal. We’re looking for the postseason and that’s cool to say that’s attainable.”

It may even have been last year, but Warecki believes that the players were so focused on getting that first win, they might have felt a little too satisfied.

“I think we could have done more, but it was about getting that initial first win and being excited about it that kind of satiated them for the year,” she said. “A lot of anything you do in life is about believing you can do it first. It took a couple of years to change that mindset and last year was definitely a tipping-point year.

“This year, I think they’re expecting more of themselves because they see what they can do and that’s taking them a long way. I have nine seniors who have been together with me for that last four years, plus the addition of some young talent.”

One of those seniors is Pitts, who as a year-round player, gives Souhegan someone it hasn’t often had and that a lot of teams don’t have either – a hockey player.

“She is a hockey player, first and foremost,” Warecki said. “Caree is certainly a leader on the ice. She has grown so much in the last four years and turned into such a leader off the ice.

“I don’t think there are many where hockey is their No. 1 sport, and I’m fortunate to have a handful of girls, who hockey is their No. 1 sport.”

For some of those girls, their hockey careers started as just something fun to do with friends, but it’s turned into a lot more.

“When we started, we were playing mostly for fun,” senior Sam DeFilippo said. “We’ve been working really hard and it’s great to finally have that opportunity to be a competitor. Other teams are taking us seriously.”

What’s encouraging for Warecki is the younger players the team has picked up in the last two seasons, players like freshman defenseman Anna Tobin and sophomore forward Leah Troie.

“Depth is starting to be created, which is incredible,” Warecki said. “I’m proud of them sticking with it and supporting each other.”

There’s still a long way to go – after Tuesday’s game, the Sabers still have 10 games left, including ones against Bishop Guertin (5-0), Lebanon (5-2) and Oyster River (7-2).

But the atmosphere surrounding the team has changed so much, Pitts believes Souhegan will only continue to get better.

“It’s such a change from freshman year,” she said. “This senior class, we want to leave having accomplished what we said we would do. We want to go from a winless team to a team that makes the playoffs in a two-year span.”