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01/23/2023 09:28 AM

Hand Girls’ Ice Hockey Co-Op Delivering in Exhilarating First Half

Freshman forward Kendall Dobratz (Old Saybrook) has emerged as one of the leading point talliers for the Hand girls’ ice hockey co-op team this winter, as the Tigers surpassed their win total from a year ago in only eight games. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Source
Junior center and assistant captain Faith Minickene (Madison) is the leading point producer for the Hand girls’ ice hockey co-op squad as the Tigers look to lock down a state tournament berth in the season’s second half. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Source

In only eight games this year, the Hand girls’ ice hockey co-op squad has already surpassed its entire win total from the 2021-’22 campaign. The team, composed of athletes from Daniel Hand, Valley Regional, Branford, Haddam-Killingworth, Old Saybrook, Westbrook, and Cromwell, holds a 5-3 record.

This past week, Hand played three games in as many days, but it proved to not be a daunting task as the squad went 3-for-3. First, at home on Jan. 19, the Tigers completed a regular-season sweep of Guilford with a 2-1 win. Then on Jan. 20 versus Masuk at Shelton Sports Center, Hand posted a 9-6 triumph. The Tigers finished the week on the road at West Haven-Sacred Heart Academy (SHA) on Jan. 21 and prevailed 5-4 in overtime to move their record to 8-3 overall. They now also sit in first place in the SCC standings.

The Tigers have had a strong influx of newcomers to complement the savvy returning veterans. However, Hand’s prominence thus far has additionally been spurred on by a newer and more innovative approach in team practices.

“A lot of it has been some of the new talent and players that have come in here and stepped up,” said Head Coach Greg Thompson when speaking about his team’s early-season success. “We are also doing a little bit more in practice than in years past. We are doing high-flow practices with small games in them in more of a European-style practice. The girls have bought into it all, and it is showing out there.”

The Tigers have somewhat labeled themselves as cardiac cats, with a pair of pivotal SCC victories in which they came from behind to triumph. Against Guilford in a 4-3 win 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 junior center and assistant captain Faith 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 junior defenseman Aviana Ramos.

“Guilford is our biggest rival, so that was a big win,” said Thompson. “In the first two periods, Guilford had played the game in our zone, and then we spent a lot of the third in theirs.”

This came after the Tigers did the same against Hamden in another 4-3 decision on Dec. 14. Hand fell behind 2-0 entering the third, but then Dobratz scored the equalizer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, where they took the contest, thanks to a goal from Minickene.

Even in its defeats, Hand has refused to sink its collective head and has gone right back to the drawing board after taking on some of the tougher foes in the state.

“We lost to Hall-Conard, and we knew going in that they would be a tough team,” Coach Thompson said. “Their record does not show how good they are, as they play a lot of the upper-tier teams. The loss showed what we had to work on. Mercy-Northwest Catholic-East Hampton was another strong competitor. That was another loss where we went into practice afterward and examined our faults, and the girls responded to it.”

On the defensive end, the Tigers’ defensemen have stepped up and put their bodies in front of the puck to limit the opponents’ chances between the pipes. On offense, Hand has gotten production from several of its lines.

“We run a tight ship in our defensive zone. We have had some new goalkeepers start out, and so we’ve taken the team and told them to protect our house with the net,” said Thompson. “The defensemen have blocked shots to minimize shots on goal. With our offensive lines, we have three strong lines, and they show what we’ve accomplished already. Faith is leading the team in points [20 points on 10 goals and 10 assists]; she is a phenomenal player who has been playing for a long time. Kendall [11 goals and five assists, 16 points] and [sophomore forward] Cora Buzzard [10 goals] are right up there for goals this season as well.”

Against Guilford, Minickene and sophomore forward Cheyenne Wilson netted goals, plus Dobratz, junior forward Raegan Wyrebek-Brasky, and sophomore forward Kylee Bolding had assists.

In the Masuk win, Minickene and Dobratz each had a hat trick, while Wyrebek-Brasky, Buzzard, and senior captain and forward Ari Wilson lit the lamp for the Tigers. Assists came by way of Dobratz (2), senior forward and captain Brooklyn Jepson, Wyrebek-Brasky, Minickene (4), Buzzard (2), and Rich.

Facing West Haven-SHA, sophomore defender Hannah Rich, Buzzard, Wyrebek-Brasky, and junior defenseman Jamie DiNapoli (two goals) scored for the Tigers, with DiNapoli having the OT winner to also help Hand move into first place of the SCC. Helping on the scores were Wyrebek-Brasky, Minickene, Jepson, and Buzzard.

No matter what town or school these girls hail from, they have come together to coalesce quite well as the winter has waged on this season. Moving forward, Thompson and Hand are ready to take things steady as the Tigers look to tap into a state tournament berth.

“The captains brought everyone together, and the girls are doing stuff off the ice now, which is great because we say that hockey is not just on the ice. You have to dedicate yourself to it and the team,” said Thompson. “We have had a couple of good practices, and then we have some more before a bunch of games. We had some good games at the start of the year, and we are hoping for big wins going forward. In the last half of the year, we want to slowly make our way toward the top. We had bouts of the flu and stomach bug on the team, but the kids are starting to show up and in a positive form. We are hoping everything goes well.”

Prior to this past week for their regular season, the Tigers defeated Trumbull-St. Joseph (5-4 on Dec. 9), Hamden (4-3 on Dec. 14), Guilford (by a 4-3 final on Dec. 19), Masuk (7-4 on Dec. 21), and Amity-Cheshire-North Haven (9-5 on Jan. 6). Hand’s losses came against West Haven-Sacred Heart Academy (10-4 on Dec. 17), Hall-Conard (8-2 final on Jan. 7), and Mercy-Northwest Catholic-East Hampton (7-1 on Jan. 14).

The Tigers’ co-op team roster consists of Hand athletes in Bolding, senior forward Emily Couto, freshman goalie Vivian Gallo, Jepson, senior defender and assistant captains Brynn McKeown, Minickene, freshman Chloe Monaghan in net, Rich; Branford’s Buzzard, freshman forward Callie Michaud, Ramos, sophomore defenseman Skylar Raymond, sophomore forward Mialynn Viera, Aryana Wilson, Cheyenne Wilson; sophomore defender Alexandra Spaniotis and freshman defender Daniella Spaniotis of Cromwell; H-K’s junior defender Jamie DiNapoli and Maggie DiNapoli; senior defenseman Callie Breitenbach and Wyrebek-Brasky from Valley Regional; Dobratz of Old Saybrook; and Westbrook’s center and freshman Brooke Ouellette.