In a time of sports specialization, Erin McMorris is an anomaly.
McMorris didn’t play hockey before she arrived at Wilton High School in 2018. And she didn’t even go out for the team as a freshman.
Instead, McMorris waited until last winter — when she was already a sophomore — to make her debut as a defenseman for the Warriors. That destination was temporary, however, as McMorris soon switched to a higher-profile position.
“About halfway through the season there was one game where both goalies couldn’t make it, so Coach (Pete) Maxfield asked for a volunteer and I decided to take a chance,” McMorris said. “After the game (he) asked if I would like to start playing goal regularly and I agreed to give it a try.”
Just one year later, McMorris has solidified her starting role and emerged as one of the FCIAC’s more reliable shot stoppers. Her performance was a big reason why Wilton went 10-8-1 this season — and nearly qualified for the 12-team state tournament — after winning only two games the season before.
“Erin is a lot more comfortable in goal, and that’s really helped our team,” said Maxfield following Wilton’s 3-2 win over Ridgefield on Jan. 24. “Where she started the season and where she is now, she’s a completely different player. I couldn’t be more pleased with how she’s playing.”
McMorris’s first game in goal last season was baptism by fire against perennial power Darien.
“I was just thinking to myself ‘do not let the puck in’ and I was praying to God that I would not let in too many goals,” McMorris said.“The entire game I just kept going over the basic tips coach had given me: glove open, cover five hole, stick on ice, butterfly with no gap. It was kind of funny to watch videos of myself because my first week in goal I didn’t really go down (to the ice) that often and I would try to save almost every goal with my skates.”
Darien won the game, 7-1, but McMorris wasn’t dismayed, even though Maxfield wouldn’t have prevented her from returning to defense.
“He told me to tell him how I felt about it after the next few practices, but I never did,” McMorris said. “I basically just showed up in goalie gear every day.”
McMorris worked on fitness and leg strength over the summer and played in spring-league games before Wilton’s preseason ice training.
“I definitely feel more comfortable in goal now since I’ve had more experience, and our goalie coach, Coach Shaughnessy, has been a big help,” McMorris said. “I have improved my movement in the goal and saving the first shot.
“Two-on-ones are probably the hardest plays for me to make a save off of because I either drop too soon and the girl passes it, or I don’t drop soon enough,” McMorris added. “I also still have to work on controlling my rebounds, so the other team cannot shoot off of a deflected puck.”
One of McMorris’s best efforts came in that 3-2 triumph over Ridgefield, another traditionally strong FCIAC program. She made 31 saves and kept the Tigers scoreless for most of the opening period, all of the second, and the first six minutes of the third.
“I was under a lot of pressure that game and I faced a lot of shots early in the game, and only allowed one goal,” McMorris said. “I held them off when they got within a goal halfway through the third period. They started to shoot more as they were pressing to score the tying goal, especially after they pulled their goalie to get an extra attacker on the ice.”
In addition to her on-ice instruction, McMorris is also gleaning deeper lessons from her experience.
“I have realized that life is a team sport,” McMorris said. “When something in life goes wrong it is not just one person’s fault. The same goes for hockey because no loss is one person’s fault.”
Her mindset did become more personally demanding this season.
“A lot of times when we lost, I blamed myself because I was the one who let the goals in,” McMorris said. “I’m very hard on myself if I let in an easy goal because I start to think if that goal hadn’t gone in, could we have won?
“It was definitely very hard for me to wrap my head around the concept that the puck gets through five other players before me,” McMorris added. “I didn’t really face this struggle last year because I was new and inexperienced so I used those games as opportunities to get better, but coming into this year I wanted so badly to go to states and, unfortunately, we fell just short of that goal.”
McMorris plans to use that frustration as a source of motivation.
“Before next season I will definitely get a lot more time on the ice because I want to help my team get to states and FCIACs next year and I don’t want to be the reason we don’t reach that goal,” she said. “I plan to attend at least one goalie camp this summer and look for other opportunities to get on the ice. My sister Katie is a forward, so I assume we also will be practicing in our driveway to help out both of our games.”