As Erin Brawley can attest to, having an opportunity to coach at your alma mater is a blessing.
Not many people get a chance to return to their high school to coach the sport they once played, so Brawley was especially pleased with the position she was in when the Greenwich Academy ice hockey began its season on Wednesday.
A 2005 Greenwich Academy graduate, Brawley has taken over the head coaching responsibilities from Moe Tarrant, who successfully guided the program for more than a decade. Tarrant remains on the staff as an assistant coach, along with John Ludwig.
“It’s a great honor to coach this team,” said Brawley, who played hockey for Tarrant at GA. “It was an honor in itself to play at GA, so to coach the Gators — I feel like I’m living that dream.”
Tarrant coached the Gators to three NEPSAC Division II championships during his tenure (2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07) and Brawley skated on the school’s 2004-05 squad title-winning squad.
“I played here for three years for Moe, so it’s going to be amazing and exciting to coach and teach with these guys,” Brawley said. “They’ve helped mentor me along the way.”
Brawley served as one of Tarrant’s assistants the past five seasons, making her transition to head coach easier.
“I’ve learned a lot from them over the years and they have my back,” she said.
Greenwich Academy opened its 2018-19 season Wednesday by skating to a 2-2 tie against Portledge School at Chelsea Piers Connecticut in Stamford.
The Gators ended their 2017-18 campaign with a flurry, going 6-0-1 in their last seven games, bringing their overall record to 14-7-1. They missed qualifying for the NEPAC playoffs by one mere point.
“We’re not looking too far ahead, but if we battle the way we did today and play as hard as we did, then no one can stop us,” Brawley said.
A look at GA’s roster shows how young the squad is. Of the 22 players on the team, 10 are freshman and two are eighth-graders.
The roster also includes four sophomores, three juniors and three seniors. The senior trio of Bobbi Roca, Grace Curran and Paige Keating are the captains. Roca is one of the Gators’ experienced forwards.
“Almost half of our roster are freshmen, but watching the freshmen, they are keeping right up with us, so I think it’s going to be a good season,” said Roca, who is in her fourth season on the squad. “I am really excited to see how far we can go.”
Curran, who like Roca, registered numerous shots on goal against Portledge on Wednesday, also skates on one of GA’s forward lines.
“Even though we are a young team, I think we have the talent and skill to beat some of the teams we didn’t beat last year,” Curran said. “We were one point away from making it to the New England Tournament, we were really close. After today’s showing, I think we will have a chance to make the tournament, we should have an exciting team.”
Keating is one of GA’s defenders, after playing up front in previous seasons. She provided effective defensive play Wednesday in front of Gators freshman goalies Emily Greenhaw, Steph Ionescu and Lianna Seeley, all of whom played one period each.
“We have a bunch of underclassmen, so we are getting them used to the speed of the game and the style of play,” Keating said. “They are really into it and they want to learn, you can tell.”
In Wednesday’s tie against Portledge School, junior forward Eliza Bowman gave Greenwich Academy a 1-0 lead with a goal at the 1:23 mark of the first period. Curran and junior forward Grace Schulze were each credited with assists on the goal.
Helen Sweeney knotted the score at 1-1 for Portledge, tallying with just 10 seconds remaining in the opening period. The visitors took a 2-1 advantage when Emma Hayes scored from close in of a 2-on-1 with 7:48 left in the second period.
Greenwich Academy scored the equalizer with 3:54 to go in the second period, with Bowman netting her second goal. Schulze and Roca each set Bowman up for the tally, as the Gators’ stepped up their pressure during the second period.
In the third period and the five-minute overtime, GA threatened to score the game-winner several times, but the scored remained tied.
Bowman, Schulze (also a field hockey and lacrosse standout), freshman Hamilton Doster, Roca, Curran and sophomore Kayla Ketchabaw and freshman Lindsay Hasapis could each spark the team up front.
“Because we do have so many new players on the team, we are passing on to them what we learned last year,” Roca said. “We want to try to give everyone an opportunity to touch the puck.”
The Gators implement a 2-3 system, utilizing two forwards and three defenders. Ava Butz (freshman), Ada Shaffer (sophomore), Ketchabaw, Cameron Brower (freshman), Sydney Pittignano, Jordan Pittignano (freshman), Mia Garvey (freshman) and Lucy Burdett (freshman) are among some of the defenders.
Else Esmond (sophomore), Grace English (sophomore), Kate Boer (freshman) and Taylor Glanville (freshman) provide depth at forward, while Greenhaw, Ionescu and Seeley are rotating in goal.
“It’s exciting to have three freshman goalies out there with the potential to play a lot,” Brawley said. “It’s awesome to have so many young kids out there and it’s great to have our juniors and seniors, who knows what it takes to win games and play in these exciting games.”
Said Keating: “We have a lot of speed on our team and our team always plays hard and is really close. I haven’t played a game with this team where we haven’t put our heart out on the ice.”