Last season saw the Greenwich Academy ice hockey team qualify for the NEPSAC Division II Championships for the first time since 2013 — a tournament it intends on reaching again this winter.
To accomplish such a goal, the Gators must do what they displayed during their 2018-2019 season — play strong defense, receive timely goals and pull out close victories.
“Making the NEPSAC tournament last season was exciting and we hope to build off that season,” Greenwich Academy coach Erin Brawley said. “This team works hard in practice and has the determination to get better. It’s important for us to keep that drive alive.”
The Gators will rely on senior captains Eliza Bowman, Sydney Pittignano and Grace Schulze to help spark the determination on the young team, which includes numerous sophomores and freshmen.
“I’m excited to see what the season brings,” said Schulze, who centers GA’s top line. “We have a lot of younger players who joined us. “We have to find the right team chemistry, but I’m excited to see what’s in store.”
Schulze, who also captained the Gators’ field hockey team, which captured the FAA Tournament championship, will continue her field hockey career at Princeton University in 2020. As was the case during the field hockey season, Schulze will be looked upon to ignite the ice hockey team on offense.
“I think we have a quick team and we are fast,” Schulze said. “We can skate around and move the puck well and we should be able to consistently score goals.”
Greenwich Academy opened its 2019-2020 campaign with a tough 2-1 loss to Canterbury School at Chelsea Piers Connecticut in Stamford on Saturday. GA held a 1-0 lead on a goal by sophomore forward Hamilton Doster. Canterbury, however, responded with two late third-period goals, with the winner coming with just 23.7 seconds remaining.
“Every game is a learning experience and I think what we can take from this loss (is) that you have to keep working until the last whistle, because we were up 1-0, so we have to finish strong,” Schulze said.
Bowman, who will play lacrosse at Johns Hopkins University, assisted on GA’s goal against Canterbury. She too, should help the Gators generate scoring opportunities throughout the season.
“It looks good for us for the rest of the season, I am excited about what we can accomplish,” said Bowman, who plays left wing. “We have great centers who get me the puck in front. Right now, we are working a lot on our system. We play three players back on defense and two forwards, so everyone is buying into the system and it’s been good.”
Pittignano, who also served as one of the captains of the Gators’ cross country team in the fall, helps anchor the squad’s defense.
“We should be strong on defense, especially when we have three back, which is nice, because if one girl gets beat you have two back and it helps,” Pittignano said. “It’s important for us to keep our work ethic up and keep focusing in on each game.”
Up next for GA is a matchup against Choate Rosemary Hall on Wednesday at Chelsea Piers Connecticut at 3:30 p.m.
AT THE HELM: Brawley is beginning her second season as coach of the Gators. A 2005 Greenwich Academy graduate, she played ice hockey for coach Moe Tarrant at GA. Last season, the Gators finished the regular season at 9-9-1 and earned their first berth into the NEPSAC Division II Championships since 2013. Seeded sixth, Greenwich Academy lost to St. George’s School, 3-1, in the quarterfinal-round of the NEPSAC Division II Championships.
Tarrant, who served as head coach of the Gators for more than a decade and guided the team to three NEPSAC titles (2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07 seasons) starts his second season as an assistant coach.
WHO’S GONE?: Graduating from last season’s successful squad were Bobbi Roca, Paige Keating and Grace Curran, all of whom served as captains.
“They were phenomenal, they were great captains,” Brawley said. “They are definitely missed in the locker room and on the ice. Aside from their captainship and being good hockey players, they were great people.”
WHO’S BACK?: Eighteen of GA’s roster of 21 players return from last season. Schulze, Bowman Doster and sophomore Cameron Brower, all of whom created pressure and scoring chances offensively in the squad’s season-opener against Canterbury, are back. Also returning to ignite the squad up front are sophomores Lindsay Hasapis, Else Esmond, Mia Garvey and Kate Boer.
Junior Ada Shaffer, Pittignano, junior Kayla Ketchabaw, sophomore Ada Butz and Jordan Pittignano (sophomore) comprise an experienced defensive group. Shaffer, Butz and Ketchabaw each have strong shots from the point and blue line and should also power the team offensively.
Sophomore Liana Seeley, who started the squad’s season-opener against Canterbury, Emily Greenhaw (sophomore), who is coming off a strong 2018-19 season and Stephanie Ionescu return as goalies.
NEWCOMERS: Forwards Ellie Volpe (freshman), Lucy Burdett (forward/defender) and Cameron Butz (freshman) join the squad this season.
QUOTABLE: “Our goal is to try and make it to the New England tournament and make it as far as we can,” Schulze said. “Having that loss in the NEPSAC tournament last year was not a good feeling and we will try to prevent that.”
Said Sydney Pittignano: “Everyone works really hard and we all put the hard work we put in practice into each game.”
COACH’S COMMENT: “Our veterans are so competitive and work really hard all the time and are helping the younger players improve,” Brawley said. “Our younger players are eager to learn and improve.”