Epke a Naturally Gifted Goaltender for Guilford Girls’ Ice Hockey
Kadence Epke was quite literally born into the sport of hockey. Having a father who had a stick in his hand at multiple competitive levels and sisters who also enjoyed it, she was bound to see success on the ice. The Guilford native and goaltender has seen just that in her debut season with the Grizzlies this winter.
Epke, who is also a member of the cross-country team for Guilford and plays lacrosse in the spring as an attacker, has been playing hockey since she was in first grade, and has only improved as a player over the years.
“My dad played in college and on a junior’s team when he was older,” says Epke. “My sisters and I started playing when we were younger.”
Grizzlies Head Coach Rick Binkowksi has been impressed with what he’s seen from Epke so far in her short stint with the hockey team, especially with the fact that she’s still so young.
“She played about three thirds of the games this season. She also skated out as a skater in four games, with one goal and an assist,” says Binkowski. “She is a very strong goalie, a tier one youth hockey goalie. She is very talented and far above your typical high school goalie.”
Epke recorded 499 saves and 536 shots on goal this season. Her save percentage was 93% and her goals against average was 2.74.
Athletes sometimes find themselves switching positions as they get deeper into their playing careers, and this was the exact case for Epke. She started out as a position player and was eventually inspired to step in front of the net by her sister’s goalie, Jenna.
“She inspired me to play goalie when I was younger and she used to have a spiderman helmet,” says Epke. “When I started playing goalie, I got a spiderman helmet to match her.”
One of the biggest things that stood out to Epke in her first season manning the net for the Grizzlies was the unique bond she was able to form with girls from other towns, since the Grizzlies had built a co-op team with athletes from Guilford, East Haven, North Branford, and Coginchaug.
“It was really fun meeting new girls from different towns and having that connection this year. My sister played for Guilford, and they never really had enough players,” she says. “This year we were able to have a full team and compete in a lot of games, which was really nice.”
With the competitive nature that comes with playing a sport at the high school level, naturally there is an increase in the intensity on the ice. Epke experienced this firsthand when she first stepped foot on the rink.
“It was hard getting a lot of shots, I have never really had to face that many in one game,” she says. “My team was really supportive and helped me through that a lot.”
As if Epke wasn’t already versatile enough, she also plays on the Mid-Fairfield Stars Tier One team as a goalie, a program she has been with for three years. Having to balance both the youth league and the school team this winter presented some challenges for her, but nothing she couldn’t overcome.
“She did play on two teams—playing on our high school team and our youth hockey team. She was faced with the normal challenges that come as a freshman, but she has a great personality, great sense of humor. Being such a strong goalie, the team looked up to her and relied on her strengths even though she was a freshman,” says Binkowski. “Even in our losses, they would have been far worse without a goalie of her caliber. The team really recognized that she made some amazing saves throughout the season.”
Guilford may have not had the season they hoped for overall this winter, but it is because of Epke that they kept themselves in a lot of games, including one in which they won due to her heroic efforts. She made a big save at the very end of regulation to help secure the victory.
“I would say the second game against West Haven/SHA was cool. We lost to them by one goal in overtime the first time, which was pretty hard,” says Epke. “We played them again at their home rink and beat them 2-1, which was really exciting for us.”
Binkowski echoes the sentiment that the West Haven/SHA game was huge for not only Epke’s confidence, but the team’s confidence as a whole. Had it not been for her, the result of the game might have been a lot different.
“She made a save at the end of the game that was incredible. My view from the bench, I was right in line with the shooter. Their numbers were up because we had a penalty,” says Binkowksi. “Through the sea of players in front of her trying to clog her view, she was able to hunt that shooter down, zero in on the puck, and track it all the way to make a really aggressive, great save right at the end of the game to secure the win for us. It was very memorable and a very amazing save.”
That wasn’t the only big save Epke made this season, as Binkowski and the team recognized and gave Epke props for keeping the team in tough games on multiple occasions this winter.
As Epke looks ahead to her sophomore stint on the ice, she hopes to continue to make good connections with her fellow teammates and have fun with the sport she loves to play.
“I am looking into prep school, but either way there is a fun team to play on,” she says. “Next year, if I stay with Guilford, I think it will be fun to meet new girls and grow our program because we are co-oping with Branford.”