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Sophomore Maddie Epke is lighting the lamp with regularity for the Guilford girls’ ice hockey squad this winter. Epke, who has 50 goals on the campaign, helped the Indians finish the regular season by winning all three of their games last week, including a 7-6 overtime victory against West Haven-Sacred Heart Academy. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Sophomore Daniella Vickerman and the Indians finished their regular season with a record of 14-5 and are eager to begin postseason play by competing in the SCC Tournament this week. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Junior Christina Garofalo scored the game-winning goal in overtime to lift Guilford to a 7-6 win versus fellow SCC stalwart West Haven-Sacred Heart Academy on Feb. 21. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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The Guilford girls’ ice hockey team rattled off seven wins in its last eight games of the regular season and is one of the hottest squads in the Southern Connecticut Conference entering this week’s SCC Tournament. After winning all three of its games last week, including a big victory over West Haven-Sacred Heart Academy (WH-SHA), Guilford finished the regular season with an overall record of 14-5 to go with a mark of 6-2 in SCC play. The Indians have earned the No. 2 seed in the SCC Tournament that gets underway this week.
“We’re a tight group,” Head Coach Rich Binkowski said. “We’re a one-town team in a sea of co-ops, and I think that makes us really special.”
Guilford started off last week by posting a 9-3 home victory versus Masuk-Barlow-Newtown-Lauralton Hall-Shelton at Patsy DiLungo Ice Rink on Feb. 17. The Indians followed up that win by notching a 7-6 overtime victory against SCC opponent WH-SHA at Bennett Rink on Feb. 21. The next day, Guilford defeated Mercy-Northwest Catholic (M-NW) by an 8-4 score at home in its regular-season finale.
Guilford’s season has been defined by some gutsy wins, including two overtime victories versus WH-SHA. The first one was a 7-6 win at Webster Bank Arena on Jan. 25. Coincidentally enough, the Indians achieved that exact same result in last week’s matchup.
“That was our best win of the season for sure, and that’s when I knew we could really do great things this year,” said Binkowski of the first victory over WH-SHA. “We trailed 6-2 at the end of the second period and, when the girls went into the locker room, we didn’t say a word to them and left the girls to their own devices. We knew that if they were going to win the game, they would have to figure it out together, and that’s exactly what they did.”
Junior defender Christina Garofalo netted the game-winning goal in OT when Guilford defeated WH-SHA in the rematch. After scoring five goals in the initial meeting, including the game-winner, Epke turned in a two-goal, three-assist performance for the Indians in last week’s victory.
Epke, a sophomore center, is once again proving a key component of Guilford’s success this year. She’s scored a team-leading 50 goals to go with 25 assists for a team-best total of 75 points on the season and already has 100 points for her high school career. Epke recorded five goals for the Indians in their win against M-NW last week.
“Time and time again, Maddie has come up big for us. She’s definitely our most skilled offensive player, and opposing coaches have raved about her to me. She’s a special player, and we’re lucky to have her on our team,” Coach Binkowski said. “Maddie is a special player for us offensively, but I think she would even say that a big part of our success comes from our defense.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Julia McDonald has started all 19 games in net for Guilford this season. Last fall, she played goalie for the Indians’ field hockey team during its championship run in the Class M State Tournament. Sophomore Olivia Gill is anchoring Guilford’s defensive corps this winter and has four goals with 14 assists to her credit.
“We would not have the success we have had without Olivia. Our offense starts with her solid defensive play and getting the breakouts going,” said Binkowski. “She is a pure shutdown defender who sees the ice so well.”
Sophomore wing Daniella Vickerman has dished out a team-leading 28 assists and is second on the squad with 45 points. Freshman Kimberly Evans has scored the second-most goals for the Indians with 19 on the year. Seniors Mary Evans, Audrey Rowan, Jaime Neleber, Ava Bucci, Lily Mackey, and Megan Fernandes round out Guilford’s core group of players. Neleber is the Indians' senior captain, while Mackey and Evans are serving as assistant captains.
In addition to making SCCs, Guilford has also qualified for the State Tournament this season. After missing out on states last year, Coach Binkowski has seen his team take some massive strides forward during the 2019-’20 campaign.
“We lost in the first round of the SCC Tournament last year, and we just barely missed out on qualifying for states, which was heartbreaking for a lot of these kids,” said Binkowski. “But I think it helped us grow a lot, and we’re in a great position to win some postseason games this year.”
As the No. 2 seed in the SCC tourney, Guilford has a first-round bye and will host the winner of No. 3 seed WH-SHA and No. 6 Hand-Coginchaug-Valley Regional-Old Lyme in the semifinals at Patsy DiLungo Ice Rink on Wednesday, Feb. 26. With a win, Guilford would advance to the final at Bennett Rink at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29.
“Our expectation is to win the SCC Tournament and the State Tournament. We’re strong, we’re talented, and we’ve been through a lot together,” Coach Binkowski said. “We believe in each other, the kids believe in each other, and we are the talk of the league. I don’t think any team will want to play us in the playoffs.”
This season, Guilford organized a fundraiser through the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. For every goal the Indians score, they are donating 50 cents to the hospital for to help kids who are battling serious illnesses. Guilford has scored 111 goals so far, resulting in $55.50 worth of donations.
“People can donate as much as they’d like,” said Binkowski. “We’ve had our most success at home games. We have a little miniature Stanley Cup, which people drop donations in. At the end of the season, all the money we collect will be going to the hospital.”
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