The Branford-East Haven-North Branford (Bfd-EH-NB) girls' ice hockey squad continues to assert itself as a factor in the SCC Division I ranks during the team's second season competing at that level. Last year, Bfd-EH-NB struggled early on in its Division I contests, but played better down the stretch, and finished with a respectable record. This winter, after starting off things with two losses and a tie, the team has since won four of its six last to stand at 4-4-1.
"We knew it would be challenging and our goal is to compete in every one of those games," said Head Coach Jack Norton of life in Division I. "I always challenge the girls to play their hardest every minute on the ice, and that's what we've done."
Since becoming Bfd-EH-NB's head coach two seasons ago, Norton's message to his players has always been for them to compete hard while playing as a unit, and the girls have consistently risen to that standard. Recently, the team changed both its uniform and its name and is now known as the Wings—a collective, competitive swarm of the Branford Hornets, East Haven Yellowjackets, and North Branford Thunderbirds.
Thus far this season, the Wings' trademark victory was a come-from-behind 6-5 overtime triumph versus fellow SCC DI opponent Conard-Hall in West Hartford on Jan. 2. Bfd-EH-NB was down three goals at the end of the first period, but answered with three goals to tie the game 3-3 entering the final frame. Both teams exchanged goals in the third before the Wings won it in overtime. Junior Emmy Norton netted a hat trick with two assists, while fellow North Branford resident Sydney Hogan, a senior captain, tallied a goal with three assists for the Wings, who had taken a 10-1 defeat to Conard-Hall last year.
The victory was a great achievement in the eyes of Coach Norton, who's been pleased to see strong chemistry on a co-op squad in which the players come from three different high schools.
"It's been good. In my three years with the program, I've always said that kind of remarkable to see how the girls do come together as just one group and play and compete together," Norton said. "A lot of times in other sports, North Branford and Branford and East Haven would all be competitors...It's really interesting to see how they all come together and play for one cause."
Junior captain goalie Julia SanGiovanni, who goes to East Haven, has been a heavy contributor to the Wings' successful start to the season. In a Division I matchup against East Catholic-Glastonbury-South Windsor last month, SanGiovanni hauled in 56 saves as the game ended in a 0-0 tie. Coach Norton praised his keeper for how great she's played, in addition to her continued improvement.
"She's been outstanding. She's probably played even better, believe it or not, than the last two years...And [EC-G-SW has] a really great team," said Norton on SanGiovanni, who's started in net since her freshman year, when the team won its second SCC Division II title. "She stopped a lot of high quality shots and has kept us in a lot of the games because she is so good."
The Wings' had two games last week and the first one was on Jan. 12, when they convincingly defeated SCC DII opponent Guilford 7-1 on their home ice at DiLungo Rink in East Haven. Emmy Norton scored a goal and had three assists for Bfd-EH-NB, which also received two goals from Hogan.
The Wings have plenty of talent in their junior and senior classes, but they've also been displaying the talent of some of their younger players. North Branford freshman Emma Sheehan, who plays on the first line, posted a goal and an assist in the Guilford win. Fellow freshman Izabella Segui, an East Haven resident, played goal and had a solid game.
"The other part of our goaltending is we are blessed this year; we actually have two goalies," said Norton. "We have Julia SanGiovanni, who is a junior and our primary starter, but we have a newcomer Izabella Segui, who's also a very, very talented goalie, which you don't often see in girls' hockey. We are fortunate this year that our goaltending is very solid."
Two days after defeating Guilford, Bfd-EH-NB hosted Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe in a non-conference contest and lost 6-0. Despite the defeat, Coach Norton knows that the Wings can play against some of the best teams in the state and feels optimistic moving forward.
"I think that's actually a really strong start," said Norton of his team's season thus far. "We've only played one team so far that's in Division II [prior to facing Guilford], which was [Amity-North Haven-Cheshire] and we beat them 4-2. Every game will be a challenge for us, but we'll be competitive."
Next on the schedule, the Wings have a few games against some SCC DII opponents, after which they'll get a rematch against a Simsbury team they lost to in their season opener, followed by another matchup versus EC-G-SW. Coach Norton feels confident that his team can pick up a few more victories to close out the month of January.
"Can we go on a little run? I think right now through the next six games, we do play a mix of a couple of teams down in the Fairfield area, a couple of Division II teams, and, hopefully, we can go on a little run here and win a bunch of those games," said Norton.
From the Sidelines
The first line for the Branford-East Haven-North Branford girls' ice hockey team features senior captain Sydney Hogan (from North Branford) at center, along with junior left wing Emmy Norton (North Branford) and freshman Emma Sheehan (North Branford). For the second line, North Branford junior Morgan Odice plays center and is flanked by senior captain Maddy Rowe and freshman Sophia Caturano, who are both from Branford. The team's top defenders are Emilie Wilkinson (North Branford), Brianna Raccio (North Branford), Hailey Manware (Branford), and Melanie Norton (North Branford).