After a slow start to its season, the defending state finalist Guilford girls’ ice hockey team is slowly starting to turn the corner in cooking up another hot postseason push.
The Indians began the campaign at 0-3—being shutout in those three opening contests by a combined 19-0. However, Head Coach Gil Schaper’s squad has rebounded from that point, which included most recently a 3-0 home blanking of Hall/Conard on Jan. 21 at DiLungo Rink (a club that earned a 4-0 victory over Guilford back on Dec. 8 in the Indians’ first game of the year) to complete a 4-4 stretch for the Indians.
“There is definitely growth from the beginning of the season; the girls have really improved from that first game against Hall/Conard where they only had four or five practices under their belts and no scrimmages,” said Schaper. “We’ve had some inconsistent performances thus far this year because of personnel, but they have definitely shown signs of improvement.”
In the matchup, the Indians outshot the Warriors by a 29-20 margin as senior netminder Bella Isnard stopped all 29 shots put on her between the pipes. Guilford got ahead 2-0 with two quick tallies midway through the first period before tacking on an insurance goal 1:54 into the third.
“Bella was playing as a forward with some time in net the previous two seasons, yet she has played some great games for us, and we are hoping to get even some more consistent performances out of her,” said Schaper. “Our other goalie [junior] Brooke Misbach has a field hockey background as a goaltender and has work hard and is picking things up quickly.”
The Indians (4-7) showed some aggression near the net in getting that all-important 1-0 edge when, at the 10:50 mark, freshman forward Olivia Rowen helped push home a tally that went off of the Warriors’ (2-9) stopper in Shannon Racz.
“The first goal was almost kind of an own goal as it went off the keeper,” Schaper said. “Yet one thing I’ve been telling the girls to try to do this year is getting to the net and crashing in for those rebound goals.”
Senior defenseman/forward Nicole Raccuia got in on the action to create a 2-0 command for the Indians 2:38 later in the opening frame and that held as the score following 15 minutes of ice time.
“Our fitness as a team has gotten better as the season has progressed. Also, the confidence of the squad has improved, because they’ve seen in a couple games that they can compete with higher-level teams,” said Schaper. “Defensively, we are still trying to get better, such as with defensive zone coverage in clearing out pucks in front of the net to prevent second or third-chance scores.”
Hall/Conard used the break to wake itself up by keeping the Indians out of their offensive zone for the “first four or five shifts of the second” according to Schaper. However, the Guilford defense stood firm by withstanding the heat and keeping the shutout bid intact.
“I think the first intermission took us off of our game and maybe they got their road legs finally going,” said Schaper. “I just told them in the second intermission that we had to get back to playing how we did in the first.”
The Indians answered their coach’s wish for that final frame when sophomore defenseman Catherine Laurence lit the lamp with 13:06 remaining in the game to make it a three-tally spread and help send Guilford to its third home ice victory on the campaign.
“The momentum did shift in that second period, but it was very nice to see us get back and get that third goal during the third,” Schaper said. “We had some other opportunities to score, and Hall/Conard did a great job of clearing the puck out. We could’ve scored more maybe, though we had more scoring chances on the night.”
Schaper admits that his club’s outings on the ice have had some Jekyll and Hyde type feel to them, yet he knows Guilford can extract the brighter moments from them to help return to both the SCC Division I and state brackets.
“Hopefully we can take the positives from our good games and build upon them as we also did that last year at the right time,” said Schaper. “When we are playing at our full potential, we can be a dangerous team in both the league and state tournaments.”
Speaking more to the Indians’ postseason prospects for this winter, Schaper and the Indians have squandered some opportunities—including league losses to East Catholic, Simsbury, Hamden, and Amity/North Haven/Cheshire. Still, he is fully aware that there is plenty of action left to make up for them.
“Unfortunately, we have lost some games in the league that I was hoping we could get, which could come back to haunt us,” said Schaper. “But we still have a good amount of games left to capitalize on. We are hoping to put ourselves in a qualifying position for the postseason and play to our full potential, because once you’ve made it, it’s anyone’s game.”