Sabers’ Paquette charges to finish

If you want to stir some emotion in Souhegan High School girls hockey coach Kelli Braley, just ask her about the program’s leading scorer, senior Shannon Paquette.

“You want to make me cry?” Braley said.

That’s the reality Braley faces after this season, as the Sabers’ benchmark player will move on to the next phase in her hockey career, playing for Assumption College.

Life will be different.

“She’s a tremendous hockey player, obviously,” Braley said. “People see that night in, night out on the ice. But I think what people don’t see is what she does for her team, and how hard she works for herself. Just everything she has put in for four years.

“In a lot of the ways, she’s been a big part of the reason this program has turned around. Those who came before her built a great foundation for her, and she took it to a new level.”

With Paquette leading the way, the Sabers picked up their first tournament win ever a year ago and this year are hoping to make even more noise in the state tourney that begins in a couple of weeks. That’s one of the reasons why Braley says the player she has now is not the same one who came to her three seasons ago.

“She’s just a really stellar person,” she said. “The growth that I’ve gotten to see in her over the four years, from the quietest, shyest freshman I’ve probably ever seen in my life coming in, to now being this huge personality, great face, and big smile.

“She’s turned into exactly the leader that I knew she could. I’m just glad she worked hard enough to see it through.”

“It’s maturity and just this team,” Paquette said. “All of the girls, they’re so supportive, we would all do anything for each other. Being in a group like that, they’re going to help anyone come out of their shell and help anyone be what they want to be.

What Paquette wants is to be a hockey player. For her, the game is therapeutic. She has been playing hockey since she was 5 years old. Her brother, former North-Souhegan standout Dean Paquette, and cousins played the game, so she was around it, and calls herself an “ice rat.”

“I’ve always been in the community of hockey,” she said. “Just something that I fell in love with.”

She does it just about year round, save for a few weeks in the spring.

“I never stop,” Paquette said. “It’s kind of an outlet for me. I have a lot of energy. Being able to go out on the ice, and be able to get out my energy. Anything else that’s going on, when I go out on the ice my head is clear, and I’m focused. It’s just my happy place.”

As for scoring, it’s a matter of experience, in Braley’s mind.

“She’s been playing since she was (five),” she said. “She’s played pretty much her whole life. She loves it. This is her passion, this is her thing. When you’re that driven and motivated by something you really, really love. … then you’re willing to put the time in and work to where you need to get.”

Paquette reached a defining moment last year as a junior in the team’s first tournament win ever, a preliminary round 4-1 triumph over Winnacunnet-St. Thomas in which she scored all four Saber goals. And then earlier this season she became Souhegan’s first 100-point scorer.

But she never always saw herself as a scorer.

“I’ve always been able to get goals,” she said. “But when it came to high school season I had to step up a bit. Not everyone can play, but that’s what makes this team so great. So being a goal scorer for this team, that’s kind of what pushed me.”

And to adapt a scorer’s

mentality.

“Sometimes she possesses some really great patience, and can pick her spots really well,” Braley said. “She’s got great control over the puck and has the ability to shoot in stride whenever she wants to, which makes her dangerous every time the puck’s on her stick. She has a slap shot that doesn’t exist in this league.”

“You really just have to go for it,” Paquette said. “When you’re going to pick your corners.”

One coach on the youth level taught her to look at one square of the net behind the goalie and pick that spot. It’s worked.

Meanwhile, how will her game translate to college?

“I think she’s going to be great,” Braley said. “Good players play hockey, but Shannon’s a great player. She has the ability to make people around her better. I think she’s going to flourish in a situation too where she’s got even more people to lift her up and support her ability.

“When you have that relationship with the team around you, and you have the other skill levels that are there and can elevate your play, the sky’s the limit.”

Paquette can’t wait.

“It’s really great,” she said, beaming. “I’m super excited to play. I have some friends that are going to play with me.”

Before then, there’s a couple more weeks of her final high school season – and then probably a lot of tears, beginning with her coach.

But they should also be tears of joy. Remember, on the ice is where Shannon Paquette is always happy.

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