Hand Girls’ Ice Hockey Co-Op Off to Hot Start This Season
With only a handful of games under its belt for this young season, the Hand girls’ ice hockey co-op team has already displayed flashes of prominence and proficiency while presenting itself as an ambitious club ready to make serious noise in the postseason conversation.
The Tigers are a co-op squad again this winter with this edition of the club composed of 23 student-athletes from the schools of Hand, Haddam-Killingworth, Branford, North Branford, Valley Regional, Cromwell, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook.
Hand finished with just four wins a year ago. Now, just a few weeks into the campaign, the Tigers have matched that win total, starting the season 4-1 with victories over Trumbull-St. Joseph, Hamden, Guilford, and Masuk. First-year Head Coach Greg Thompson surmised that things are moving swimmingly in the infancy phases of the year, due in large part to the girls’ intensity and focus every time they take to the ice.
“Things are going well so far this season,” said Thompson. “The girls have really stepped up, and they are focused. Their energy off the ice is phenomenal as well. The captains and assistant captains have really brought this team together. They are going into each game focused and ready to play.”
Leading the charge for the Tigers is a terrific quartet of captains and assistant captains. The main captain’s chair is shared by seniors of forwards Brooklyn Jepson and Aryana Wilson, while the two assistant spots are occupied by another senior in Brynn McKeown at defense and junior center Faith Minickene.
“The girls were named as captains and assistant captains at the end of last year, because they take a lot of the leadership on, and they make everyone feel welcome on the team,” Coach Thompson said. “They are also always taking care of the business that has to get done within the team.”
Hand holds a youthful bunch this year with only five seniors and four juniors, as forward Emily Couto and defenseman Callie Breitenbach round out final-year players. The remaining junior class is made up of forward Raegan Wyrebek-Brasky, defender Jamie DiNapoli, and Avi Ramos also on defense.
Thompson also pointed out a solid sophomore class with great upside in forwards Cora Buzzard and Kylee Bolding, along with defenseman Hannah Rich.
“Cora brings a lot of energy to the team,” said Thompson. “I have watched her play in other programs, and Kylee has really stepped it up in the last year. Hannah is a strong skater who is good with her hands.”
Most recently, Hand edged out Guilford by a 4-3 tally on the road at East Haven on Dec. 19. The Grizzlies led 2-0 after a period of play. Then Hand responded with second-period scores from freshman forward Kendall Dobratz and Minickene. With the Tigers trailing 3-2 heading to the third, Dobratz scored the tying goal with an assist by Minickene, and Dobratz scored the game-winning goal with an assist by Ramos.
Then at home on Dec. 21, the Tigers moved past Mausk with a 7-4 decision. Scores came from Jepson (2 goals), Cheyenne Wilson, Minickene, Wilson, Bolding, and Buzzard. Assisting on those tallies were DiNapoli, sophomore defender Alexa Spaniotis, Breitenbach, Minickene, and Wilson.
Hand carved itself out a signature win for its season in only the Tigers’ second outing when they had a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime victory over Hamden on Dec. 14. Hand trailed 2-0 entering the third, but then scored the equalizer at the buzzer to send the game into the extra session, where they took the contest.
Tigers’ goal scorers in the comeback effort were Wyrebek-Braskey (assisted by DiNapoli), Minickene, assisted by Jepson and Wilson, Dobratz with the tying goal (assisted by Minickene) before Minickene had the game-winner.
Looking at the road ahead as the calendar turns to January and a new year, Hand still has a plethora of formidable foes to tackle within the Southern Connecticut Conference, while testing their might against outstanding out-of-conference adversaries.
“Guilford is a good rival of ours and in the SCC with us,” Thompson said. “Hamden earlier this year was a big win. West Haven-Sacred Heart Academy is always a good game and opponent for us. We lost to them this year, but we will put that game aside for the next time we meet. Masuk is always a good team and game for us. Stamford-Westhill is a strong team; Mercy-Northwest Catholic-East Hampton is a good fight. For our whole schedule, we should be close with all teams, and so we will go into it with high intensity.”
As they forge on through the cold days of winter, the Tigers look to continue to construct a warm and welcoming club that will serve as an integral piece to growing the game of girls’ ice hockey within the state.
“With girls’ ice hockey, we are all trying to bring the sport and the game to the next level,” said Coach Thompson. “For us specifically, we are looking to build more of a team spirit. Even with practices, we have more of a high-tempo practice rather than just a play-around kind of game with it.”
During his first campaign as head coach, Thompson, who was the Hand assistant coach a year ago, is being assisted on the bench this winter by John Minickene and Sara Walewski, along with Christine Meadows.
The Tigers’ co-op team roster consists of Hand athletes in Bolding, Couto, freshman goalie Vivian Gallo, Jepson, McKeown, Minickene, freshman Chloe Monaghan in net, Rich; Branford’s Buzzard, freshman forward Callie Michaud, Ramos, sophomore defenseman Skylar Raymond, sophomore forward Mialynn Viera, Wilson, forward and sophomore Cheyenne Wilson; Spaniotis and freshman defender Daniella Spaniotis of Cromwell; H-K’s Jamie DiNapoli and Maggie DiNapoli; Breitenbach and Wyrebek-Brasky from Valley Regional; Dobratz of Old Saybrook; and Westbrook’s center and freshman Brooke Ouellette.