Versatile Burnes A Major Plus For NHS Girls Ice Hockey Squad

Ken Hamwey Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
February, 2019
Article Body: 

Molly Burnes is Natick High’s all-time scoring leader in ice hockey but she’s more than just a skater who compiles goals and assists.
Much more.
The Rehawks’ senior center, whose career statistics at Local Town Pages deadline were 55 goals and 51 assists, is a co-captain whose ability and leadership skills rate very high with head coach Bruce Ihloff. The veteran mentor ranks Burnes as the best captain he’s ever had.
“Molly is a natural athlete whose hockey IQ is her top asset,’’ he said. “She makes everyone around her better because she’s so instinctive. She reads the plays, gets into position and involves her teammates. Molly is a leader on and off the ice and she works extremely hard on defense, on penalty killing and on the power play.’’
A three-sport athlete, the 18-year-old Burnes started as an outside midfielder last fall on the soccer team that won the South Sectional and was runner-up in the State tourney. She also has started all three seasons as a midfielder in lacrosse, sparking the Redhawks to three straight tournament appearances.
It’s the ice, however, where Burnes now is focused and she’s intent on leading Natick to a playoff run. Last year, the Redhawks downed Pembroke, then were eliminated by Archbishop Williams in the quarterfinals.
“Getting to the quarterfinals last year was the farthest a girls hockey team has gone in the program’s history,’’ Burnes said. “My goal is for us to qualify again and advance farther than last year.’’
So far, Naitck is 3-3-2 and in the mix for a playoff berth.
“Going far in the tourney is realistic because we’ve got the talent, we’re focused and our team defense is effective,’’ Burnes emphasized. “Also, our team chemistry is solid and the team’s attitude is good.’’
Ihloff concurs, noting that: “Although we faced challenging teams in the early part of the schedule, our defense is a big key and we’ll be disappointed if we don’t qualify.’’
Playing on the first line, Burnes is quick to credit Natick’s other senior captain (second-line center Nicole Maxwell) and juniors Nicole Schnair and Jacqui Poulack, a pair of wings on the first line. “Nicole (Schnair) and Jacqui have excellent stick skills and they pass well,’’ Burnes said. “We complement one another well. Nicole (Maxwell) and I have played hockey together since the second grade. She’s fast, aggressive and is a hard-working leader.’’
Burnes also credits Ihloff for guiding the Redhawks to a pair of tourney appearances in the last three seasons. “Coach Ihloff wants what’s best for the team,’’ she said. “He’s a terrific motivator whose pre-game pep talks are inspiring. He’s also an excellent strategist.’’
The 5-foot-4 Burnes, a four-year starter who’s been a Bay State Conference all-star since her sophomore season, rates the best game of her career a 2-2 tie this year against powerful Shrewsbury. “We were losing, 2-1,’’ she said, “and we were on a penalty-kill with less than two minutes left in the game. I scored a short-handed goal with about a minute to go and we finished in a tie.’’
As far as top thrills go, Burnes lists two events — the quarterfinal game in last year’s tourney and her assist that gave her the 100th point of her career.
Helping the team get to the quarterfinals against Archbishop Williams was memorable,’’ she said. “That’s the farthest a Natick girls hockey team has gone in tourney play. Assisting on a goal against Notre Dame of Hingham earlier this year gave me my 100th point. That was an awesome feeling. It was a testament to all the work in practice. It’s also a tribute to my teammates. Without them, it doesn’t happen. My assist tied the game at 4-4 but unfortunately we lost, 5-4.’’
An aggressive center who puts defense and passing ahead of scoring, Burnes has a plethora of assets that have made her a league all-star. She’s got speed, she can back-check, her awareness on the ice is dynamic, her shot is hard and she’s effective on face-offs.
Burnes also is effective in the classroom. A two-time National Honor Society student, she’ll be attending Northeastern University next fall where she’ll major in either psychology or communications. “I’ll likely play either club hockey or lacrosse there,’’ she noted.
Relying on a competitive philosophy that combines winning, reaching her potential and enjoying her athletic opportunities, Burnes is acutely aware that sports teach valuable life lessons.
“I’ve become a better leader because of sports,’’ Burnes said. “I try to lead by example and by being vocal and supportive. Athletics have also helped me to overcome adversity. I missed some games in soccer and lacrosse because of injuries but athletics have taught me to be resilient. I’ve also learned lessons like being accountable and to be compassionate and consoling to a teammate that needs cheering up.’’
Calling her mom, Ann, who coaches Natick’s field hockey team, her role model because of her ability “to provide perspective and suggestions when needed,’’ Burnes is optimistic that her line and the rest of the team will rise to the occasion and give the Redhawks another shot at playoff hockey.
Burnes’ ability to elevate the play of others is a major plus going forward and Ihloff pays his star center the highest compliment when the conversation turns to one of his junior wings. “Jacqui Poulack and Molly have been together for three seasons and they’re both magical on the ice,’’ he said. “Jacqui is similar to Molly and as far as stats go, she’ll get good numbers, too.’’
Pointing to Molly Burnes as the yardstick for success is not surprising.