The Branford-East Haven-North Branford (Bfd-EH-NB) girls' hockey squad knew that life in Division I would be challenging and it played out that way early as the Hornets dropped six of their first nine games while competing against Connecticut's elite. Still, co-Head Coach Jack Norton complimented his athletes for never relenting and the hope was that Bfd-EH-NB would emerge with thick skin that could increase the team's chances of putting a few in the win column when it faced more-favorable matchups. In their last six contests, the Hornets have put four in the win column and also tied Hand to stand at 7-7-1 entering the home stretch.
"I think the move to DI was tough for us, but we've definitely improved," said Coach Norton. "No matter who we're playing, we battle hard, and our message is to play the entire game, play all 45 minutes until that last horn sounds, and we have girls who have done that. We haven't given up."
The Hornets' most recent game was a 2-1 home contest against non-conference opponent Stamford-Westhill-Staples (S-W-S) at DiLungo Rink in East Haven on Feb. 6 and Bfd-EH-NB came away with a 2-1 victory. Sophomore Emmy Norton scored both goals for the Hornets, who outshot S-W-S by a 24-18 margin with sophomore Julia SanGiovanni making 17 saves.
Previously on Feb. 3, Bfd-EH-NB went to Northford Ice Pavilion to face SCC foe Hand and the clubs skated to a 2-2 draw. It was Senior Night for the Tigers (3-12-1) and they came out strong by scoring the first goal 3:37 into the game.
Hand took its 1-0 lead to the second period, but the Hornets retaliated by netting a pair of goals. First, senior captain Julia Schatz scored from junior Sydney Hogan to tie it up just under a minute into the frame. Coach Norton described it as "a great goal" that featured some crisp passing between Schatz and Hogan and culminated with Hogan drawing in her defender and then finding a wide-open Schatz for the equalizer. Then at the 8:36 mark, Norton set off the siren by making a few nice moves and blasting one into the upper corner to put the Hornets ahead 2-1. However, thirty seconds after that, Hand came back with a goal to tie the game 2-2 and that score held up as the final.
As usual, SanGiovanni manned the net for Bfd-EH-NB. Coach Norton called SanGiovanni one of the best goalies in the SCC and said that "she seems to have gotten better as the season has progressed." Norton added that his team outshot the Tigers and had several chances to take the lead, but both keepers were true to the task in preserving the stalemate.
"We played a good game. I don't think it was one of our best games compared to the game against West Haven. We played a much-better game that game," said Norton, who's in his second year as co-head coach with program founder Lauren Wiggins. "This game wasn't one of our best performances. It wasn't our worst performance. It was somewhere in the middle."
The game Coach Norton is referring to was a 5-1 home triumph over West Haven-Sacred Heart Academy (WH-SHA) on Jan. 30. The contest was the last of a four-game stretch that saw his squad collect three victories. Bfd-EH-NB started its spurt with a 7-1 win at home against Lauralton Hall and then edged Notre Dame-Fairfield/Foran 3-2 at Milford Ice Pavilion before taking a 2-1 loss at S-W-S on an outdoor rink in Stamford. The Hornets came right back with the win versus WH-SHA, after which they played to the tie with Hand and then gained revenge by beating S-W-S.
Coach Norton was pleased to see his team's nonstop effort pay off with a few recent victories and felt his squad was hitting on all cylinders against WH-SHA.
"That week was definitely satisfying," Coach Norton said. "The West Haven game was closer than it ended up, but that was our best effort this year. It's exciting to have those tight games and even Hand was another one. The girls are really into it when that happens."
The Hornets have six games left on the season and, even though some of them are against Division I teams they've already lost to, Coach Norton feels satisfied with the way the campaign has unfolded thus far, in addition to how his program is shaping up for the future.
"Overall, things have gone well. Considering we're playing in DI and the number of players who didn't have experience coming in, I think the season has gone maybe a little above expectations," Coach Norton said. "Overall, it's been a great experience. It's helpful to have a lot of kids in the program and those kids who continue to play and learn will get a chance to get on the ice in the next few years. That's really what girls' hockey is all about. It's a growing sport, you want to get kids involved, and it's good to see we have the numbers."
From the Sidelines
The first line for Branford-East Haven-North Branford is comprised of junior center Sydney Hogan (from North Branford), sophomore left wing Emmy Norton (North Branford), and senior captain Julia Schatz (East Haven). North Branford sophomore Morgan Odice centers the second line and has been flanked by a quartet of Branford sophomores in Maddy Rowe, Julia Falcigno, Hailey Manware, and Alycia Ferretti. Manware used to be the team's backup goalie. Caroline Erickson, another Branford sophomore, has also seen time at forward.
One of the Hornets' defensive pairings features North Branford sophomore Emilie Wilkinson and Branford junior Julianna LaCroix. The other consists of senior captain Anne Pascale (Branford) and freshman Brianna Raccio (North Branford). East Haven sophomore Julia SanGiovanni is in her second year as the club's starting goalie.
Prior to its four recent victories, Bfd-EH-NB had previously defeated Mercy-Northwest Catholic (3-2 in overtime), Hand (3-1), and Guilford (6-0).