The Hand girls' ice hockey team has skated out to a hot start with seven victories in the books thus far this winter. Now, the Tigers are ready to find their offensive groove during the campaign's second half in their quest to land one of the eight spots in the State Tournament.
After going 7-13-1 last season, the Tigers have built up a nice head of steam to the tune of a 8-4-2 record, including a mark of 7-1 in SCC Division II, on the strength of a stingy defense that's allowing 1.3 goals per game. Last
Moving forward, Head Coach Tad McGwire is looking to get the Tigers who are clawing around the crease to light the lamp more frequently. Two days after taking a 2-0 loss to SCC Division I opponent Branford-East Haven-North Branford on Jan. 26, McGwire's squad lit the lamp seven times in a 7-1 win over SCC DII opponent Lauralton Hall.
"The team is definitely together and our identity is a solid defense. We have two great goalkeepers and four girls in the back. We're giving up just over a goal a game, which is phenomenal average," said McGwire. "We need to score more versus better teams. We have to get more people in front of the net and get those grind-it-out goals on rebounds. Against East Catholic-Glastonbury-South Windsor [a 1-1 tie] and Simsbury [a scoreless draw], we held them to one goal combined. We just have to figure out how to score versus those better teams."
Hand features a captain on both ends of the ice this year. Left winger Haley Rodham is a member of the Tigers' top scoring line, while defenseman Erica Splain is the squad's other captain.
"Haley is a team leader and brings a lot to the ice and the locker room. She has a steady demeanor, works hard, and is a real team player," said Coach McGwire. "Erica brings a steady influence to the locker room and practices. The girls recognized her leadership and elected her captain. She does a great job with a great attitude."
The rest of the Tigers' vaunted defensive front features junior Sam Rodham, sophomores Grace Doheny and Kaitlyn Sandor, and freshman Lucy Brown. On offense, Hand is receiving production from senior Bradie Stryker, junior Bridgette Dwyer, sophomores Sarah Conroy and Grace Lavin, plus freshman Jacqueline Sandor. In net, the Tigers have utilized a successful tandem of junior Kylie Garguilo and freshman Carina Mancini.
"Sam is our strongest all-around defenseman and has played well all year. Grace Doheny leads our team in plus-minus ratio and Kaitlyn is our leading scoring defenseman. Bridgette is a real force on the ice, along with Sarah Conroy and Bradie on our starting line. Bradie brings an edge and grit to that line that makes them very effective. Grace Lavin has a lot of hockey experience and is a quick and relentless center," McGwire said. "We have two solid keepers in Carina and Kylie. Both have about the same save percentage. Carina had two great games—both ties—against top teams in the state. Kylie has made unbelievable progress and I have a lot of confidence in her."
Even though the Tigers have reached one team goal of becoming a cohesive club, they know that there's still plenty of work to be done. After losing in the semifinals of their conference tournament a year ago, Hand wants to improve upon that performance in 2017, while also qualifying for the ultimate postseason tournament. To get there, Coach McGwire knows that the Tigers will have to tangle with several formidable foes.
"We [recently played] Branford-East Haven-North Branford this year, which is a rivalry game, and they are in Division I of the SCC, so a win would give us a leg up for states. We played West Haven-Sacred Heart Academy, Notre Dame-Fairfield/Foran is quietly putting together a great year, and [Amity-North Haven-Cheshire] is always strong," said McGwire. "Off the ice, we want to have the team jelling as a unity and that is where the captains come in and they've done a great job there. On the ice, we want to win the SCC Division II regular season and postseason titles. We also want to qualify for states, which is something we haven't done since I've been here."
From the Sidelines
Tad McGwire is in the midst of his fifth season as Hand’s head coach.
The assistant coaches for the Tigers this year are Ross Shepard, Katie Bernick, and Abby Blundon.
Through the Tigers first 13 contests, they’ve posted five shutouts and have allowed more than two goals in a game just three times.
The top four teams in SCC Division II qualify for the conference tournament. The semifinals are Monday, Feb. 20 and the championship game takes place on Friday Feb. 24 at Bennett Rink in West Haven.