by Roger Wistar
For the seniors on the girls varsity hockey team, the goal for this season is the prize that has eluded them thus far in their Hotchkiss hockey careers – a postseason berth.
"No one on the team has ever been to the playoffs, but this year, we have a solid team who has the potential to do so," said co-captain Stephanie O'Brien '18.
Head coach John Cooper also expressed excitement about the potential for this year's squad, which boasts 20 skaters, the largest roster he's had in his time coaching the team at Hotchkiss.
Having more players has allowed the team to practice at a higher, more sophisticated level, said Cooper. "Given more practice time, this is a group that we hope will evolve faster and further than most groups," he said.
Playoffs were on the mind of many players during tryouts, but not for hockey. As is often the case, several members of the team were on this year's semifinalist field hockey and soccer squads, delaying the ability of the team to have full practices until after Thanksgiving Break.
Despite the lack of common ice time, the Bearcats managed to emerge from their first round of play with a 1-1-1 record, including a win in their last game against Berkshire. As always, the biggest early test will be the PKO tournament at Taft on Dec. 14-15, which will see the team play games against Kent, Choate, and Tabor.
The Kent game will be a rematch of the season opener, which the Lions took 3-0 but which was scoreless through two periods. "We couldn't be more excited," said Cooper. "It's nice to get another shot so quickly at a team who you played against very well."
Offense will be one key to the team being more successful this season, and co-captain Gracyn Campbell '18 said that the team needs to possess the puck and generate pressure. "We've struggled in the past with being able to settle the puck in the offensive zone and generate quality scoring chances, but I think we have the skill and depth to do that better this year," she said.
Goalie and co-captain Lindsay Reed '18 was even more direct. "We need to be willing and not afraid to crash hard into the net," she said. "I'll take a scrappy goal over no goal any day."
The defense begins with Reed, who has earned accolade on top of accolade, including being named to the US Under-18 national team for the second time just a few weeks ago. She will join the team for the IIHF Under-18 Women's World Championships in Russia in early January.
Reed gives all the girls on the team tremendous confidence. "It is great to play in front of her because we never have to worry about whether she'll make the first save – she will," said O'Brien.
Shutting down rebound opportunities and staying disciplined will be the other keys to keeping opponents out of the net, said O'Brien and Campbell.
Cooper agreed, adding that while the team is getting into hockey shape, keeping opponents on the outside and winning the battles for loose pucks will also be essential for success.
Joining Cooper on the staff this year will be new assistant coach Mike Fitzgerald. Cooper praised Fitzgerald for his work thus far, which helps the whole team but is primarily focused on working with the forwards. "He brings a creative twist to practice every day," said Cooper.
Also earning kudos were returning assistants Robin Chandler and Nat White, who works with the goalies on both the girls and boys teams.