WALLINGFORD >> Carly Femniak became enamored with the sport of ice hockey at an early age.
Watching the fast-paced game with her father Pete was exciting. But at age 6, when she started actually playing the game, she found it to be exhilarating.
She began her youth hockey career as a winger for the local Wallingford Hawks Association youth hockey boys team and loved scoring and being a playmaker. She started with the boys because at the time there was no girls youth team in town and as a result her early dream was to play for the Sheehan boys hockey team.
At age 8 she started playing in the Guilford youth hockey organization because it had a girls hockey program and at age 11 she went back home to the Hawks because they started a girls program. After practice one day with the Hawks, Carly’s father mentioned to her that he played goalie for a deck hockey team. She thought about it, decided to give the position a try and immediately fell in love with playing between the pipes.
When she was a freshman at Sheehan, her career came full circle as she found herself back with the boys. The Titans only have varsity boys hockey and her early dream came true as she joined the boys team as a backup goalie. Patiently waiting for her opportunity to be a full-time starter on the boys team, this season as a junior that opportunity arrived and Sheehan coach Dave Festa did not hesitate naming her as the starter.
Coincidentally, the Titans are having one of their best seasons at 11-4-1 and recently qualified for the SCC-SWC Division II Hockey League tournament with a 3-2 league record. Overall, Sheehan has talent and experience front to back this season and Femniak is one reason for this season’s success.
“As the season has progressed, you could see her confidence level growing,” Festa said. “The team has supported her in many aspects, including with our strong defensive zone presence and being able to score at the opposite end. Carly has stepped up in big games and has been making the critical saves to keep teams in check.
“Carly has a quiet confidence about her and she seems to enjoy the challenge of playing against the boys. Her success does not surprise me because she worked hard in the off-season knowing she was getting the nod as the starting goaltender this year. Her work ethic in practice is second to none and she’s usually one of the first ones on the ice at 5 a.m.”
Femniak said the experience at Sheehan has been everything she thought it would be.
“This season has been extremely exciting, not only playing goalie for this team but winning 11 out of 16 games we have played so far,” Femniak said. “I am pleasantly surprised by the way this team flows this year. Even in the beginning of the season I saw how well the guys connected in front of me on the ice. It’s awesome to see the team being so successful this year.”
In an era when high school girls hockey is growing in Connecticut, it’s more rare now than in the past to see a girl on a boys team. When Femniak first came to Sheehan she didn’t know she could attach herself to a girls co-op team, similar to a few girls at Cheshire High who have played for the Amity/Cheshire/North Haven girls team.
“I truthfully didn’t know I could do a co-op with a girls team,” Femniak said. “Playing with the boys team was just a natural transition to me. I am really glad I played for Sheehan and not a co-op group. It has been an amazing experience playing side-by-side with the boys.
“There actually is one other girl (Madison McNamee) now that is on the team and we never feel out of place. Before she joined, the guys welcomed me right away. On the ice, the boys support and defend me no matter what. Off the ice it’s never a bad experience with the boys, they are so funny and are like family to me. I am glad to be a part of this team.”
McNamee, who played with Femniak in the Hawks youth program, is a sophomore center who sees limited playing time at this stage. Festa said there are no plans to start a varsity girls hockey team at Sheehan because there aren’t enough girls to have a team.
Femniak said she loves playing goalie because of the action involved. Getting pelted with pucks, getting hit by players, the constant communication with her defensemen and the challenge of constantly putting yourself in the right position to react to a shot and make a save gives her an adrenalin rush.
“I love playing goalie,” Femniak said. “My success is definitely due to a combination of things and my team is a huge reason. My defensemen always come up to me and give me advice. It really helps when you can have that relationship with your defensemen. Hard work just comes with the job, but there is no way that a team can be so successful without everyone sacrificing and pushing themselves.
“For me, my development and improvement is due to the fact I don’t focus on my strengths, I focus on my weaknesses to get better. For the past two years, we had two older goaltenders that were fantastic and they taught me a lot of the techniques I am using in games. My coaches gradually played me more as the season progressed the last few years too, so that I was comfortable with the team by the time the other two goalies were gone.”
Festa said Femniak has shown that she is a technically sound goaltender, getting square to the shots and becoming much stronger on her glove hand. She played in a few games last season behind two senior goaltenders who are now both playing club hockey at the college level.
How do the boys feel about playing with a female goalie?
“Carly is a solid goaltender and we’re all confident that with her behind us we can win,” co-captain and forward Mike Capozzi said. “She has kept us in every single game we played and I trust her abilities in net. I know about those abilities because she’s hard to score on in practice.
“I’m not surprised at how well Carly played. Over the last three years of being teammates with her I knew she would do well against us boys. We don’t even blink when it’s mentioned we have a girl goalie, she’s just as good if not better than the opposing teams goalies.”
Capozzi said the boys don’t treat her any differently from their male teammates.
“Carly will be immensely important to us in the postseason,” Capozzi said. “Without good goaltending, we wouldn’t be able to win many games, especially in the postseason. Her play in the postseason will determine how far we will make it.”
Femniak is also the goalie on the Sheehan field hockey team and last season led the Titans to a 6-8-3 record including four shutouts. She believes the field hockey season prepares her for ice hockey.
“I think field hockey plays a huge part of getting me ready for the hockey season,” Femniak said. “During field hockey we do countless conditioning and reaction drills and by the time it is ice hockey season you are in shape and prepared. I can’t possibly pick a favorite, I love both sports for different reasons.
“For ice hockey it is faster and the adrenalin just takes over, it’s like no other feeling in the world. For field hockey it is slower but extremely intense and the team is like family to me, I’ll do anything for them. The ice hockey team plays a game of field hockey with the girls after the field hockey season just to have some fun. Both teams are just so much fun to be on.”
Festa said he has discussed the options for Femniak’s future, whether it’s taking a year at a prep school or going right to the college level. He believes Femniak “has the tools to succeed in whatever direction, whatever sport she decides to play.”
Femniak said, “My immediate goal for this season is to play to the best of my ability and leave everything on the ice. I want to look back on the season and think ‘Wow, we played our hearts out.’ It would also be amazing to get to the championship game in the (CIAC Division III) state tournament. It would mean a lot to the team and I. After high school I hope to play both ice and field hockey in college.”