The Amity-North Haven-Cheshire (A-NH-C) girls' ice hockey squad certainly isn't resting on its laurels following an excellent 2015-'16 campaign. A year ago, the Blades won their first 11 games, went 14-5-1 in the regular season, and then won the SCC Division II Tournament championship on their way to an overall record of 16-6-1. As a result, there are high expectations for the current campaign, although first-year Head Coach John Peschell knows that his club has to take things step by step.
"We hope to make it back to the division championship, but we take things one game at a time and focus on improving week after week," said Coach Peschell.
Peschell was an assistant last year for Head Coach Scott Whyte, who is now one of the Blades' assistants. Peschell said that taking players from three different schools and turning them into championship contenders wasn't easy at first, but added that something as simple as changing the team's name to the Blades helped unify the squad and produce results.
"It used to be difficult," said Peschell, "in the beginning, it seemed to be three different teams, but that all changed when Scott came in."
Last winter, A-NH-C captured the SCC Division II title with a 2-1 victory over West Haven-Sacred Heart Academy after earning a decisive 6-2 win versus Notre Dame Fairfield/Foran in the semifinals. The team then competed in the State Tournament as the 7th seed and was defeated by No. 2 seed East Catholic-South Windsor-Glastonbury in the quarterfinals. The team's level of success in just its fourth year of existence was unquestionably impressive.
The Blades opened this season on Dec. 6 against a talented Ridgefield-Danbury team that defeated them 5-4 last year. Meghan Hogan ignited the Blades with a first period goal that was assisted by Shannon Reilly, a North Haven native. Amity freshman Tess Csejka added a beautiful transition goal three minutes later off a turnover, giving A-NH-C a 2-0 advantage. Ridgefield was able to tally a goal early in the second period, but the Blades responded quickly when Reilly fed the puck to fellow North Haven sophomore Jackie Howlett, who scored to make the game 3-1. As time waned in the second period, Csejka increased the Blades' lead to 4-1 with a score. Despite a late Ridgefield goal, A-NH-C came away with a 4-2 victory on its home ice at The Rinks at Shelton.
Csejka's goals were key and Reilly's two assists were also critical in the victory, which Coach Peschell called "a real effort win." The Blades pressured the opposing skaters all night, leading to several turnovers that gave A-NH-C numerous scoring opportunities in transition. All totaled, the Blades recorded 36 shots on goal to Ridgefield's 24. Peschell said the outcome of the contest was largely the result of his team's hard work in practice.
"I was very proud of how our team took what we worked on in practice and executed it in the game," he said.
The 4-2 triumph was a great start for a squad that has to replace five players from last year's team, including captain Catherine Babbidge, goaltender Julianna Daddio, and premier player Erin Owens, who are all from North Haven. Coach Peschell points to athletes like Kiley Degrand, a senior captain from North Haven, to help fill the void left by the departing players.
"Kiley is a great player," said Peschell. "Not just because of her talent, but because she leads by example."
Degrand leads a young Blades team that features eight freshmen, including North Haven native Melissa Montesi; and seven sophomores, three of which are from North Haven in Howlett, Katelyn St. Peter, and Reilly. Degrand and juniors Kyle DelVecchio, Maryssa Racino, and Jamie Fredericks are the other North Haven athletes on the squad.
Coach Peschell acknowledges his team's youth, but asserted that the Blades have "unlimited potential to grow." Peschell felt last year's squad displayed great team unity that's carried over into this season. The coach said any success for A-NH-C this year will largely stem from how the team plays in its defensive end. The Blades definitely delivered in that regard in their season-opening win versus Ridgefield-Danbury.
"Our initial focus is on defense and we'll progress from there," he said. "Defense first and then we'll go from there."
From the Sidelines
The Blades' roster features senior captains Kiley Degrand (North Haven), Bailey MacNamara (Amity), Jena Casman (Amity); juniors Olivia Dittman (Amity), Grace Kosh (Amity), Kyla DelVecchio (North Haven), Maryssa Racino (North Haven), and Jamie Fredericks (North Haven); sophomores Shannon Reilly (North Haven), Meaghan Hogan (Cheshire), Jackie Howlett (North Haven), Hannah Sosensky (Amity), Andrea DelVecchio (Amity), and Katelyn St. Peter (North Haven); plus freshman Haley Cable (Amity), Tess Csejka (Amity), Melissa Montesi (North Haven), Nadia DeNatale (Cheshire), Jaque Oliveri (Cheshire), Olivia Sailmone (Cheshire), Sara Cable (Amity), and Keyana Miller (Amity). Head Coach John Peschell is assisted by Scott Whyte and Kate Mrowka.
Amity-North Haven-Cheshire's schedule includes two games against fellow SCC Division II opponents Masuk-Barlow-Newtown, Lauralton Hall, Guilford, Notre Dame-Fairfield/Foran/Weston, Hand, and West Haven-Sacred Heart Academy. The Blades also face off against Division I opponents Hamden, Simsbury, East Catholic-Glastonbury-South Windsor, and Branford-East Haven-North Branford. They will also play three out-of-conference games versus Fairfield Ludlowe/Warde, Stamford-Westhill-Staples, and New Canaan.