The winter season has been one of significant change for the Greenwich Academy ice hockey team, which like all squads in the NEPSAC, hasn’t been able to compete against its traditional rivals due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet even though the season has lacked the excitement and anticipation of playing rival opponents and competing for a berth in the NEPSAC tournament, Greenwich Academy has done its best to offer its athletes a hockey experience.
In season’s past, GA’s schedule featured between 16 to 18 regular season games, with more matchups occurring if it qualified for postseason play. In today’s unprecedented times, the Gators’ 2020-2021 season has seen several starts and stops due to COVID-19 safety precautions administered by schools in every area.
“We started out in November and we had two practices where we had everyone on the ice,” GA coach Erin Brawley said. “We had 32 girls between varsity and our JV team. We created a JV team, which was exciting. Then two days later, we were on pause until we were allowed to skate four players at a time, after Thanksgiving. We worked on a lot of skill development, a lot of 1-on-1 action.”
The pause on winter high school sports was lifted by the state on Jan. 19, so more players were allowed to practice on the ice at once and recently, Greenwich Academy has been able to have its full roster of 23 varsity athletes participating at their home ice at Chelsea Piers Connecticut.
“We’ve had practices with everyone and they felt amazing,” Brawley said. “It felt like we were starting over from the beginning. The girls had a lot of energy and it was exciting to be back in action.”
Tuesday, the Gators played Greenwich Country Day School, which recently began an upper school hockey program, at Chelsea Piers. The two teams will test their skills in another scrimmage against each other on Thursday (Feb. 25).
Senior defender Ada Shaffer and junior defender Ava Butz are Greenwich Academy’s captains. Shaffer and Butz have meant a great deal to the program for several seasons and they have displayed impressive leadership during this modified season.
“They have done a really good job of keeping the group motivated and wanting to come to the rink,” Brawley said of Shaffer and Butz. “They have made it feel like we are going to see the light at the end of the tunnel and they have helped keep the group feeling like a team. They are always working hard in practice and are always the first out there ready to go.”
Kayla Ketchabaw, a senior forward, will continue her ice hockey career next season at Hobart College.
“She has brought a lot of energy to the team and we are looking forward to watching her play,” Brawley said.
Else Esmond and Grace English are also senior forwards.
“They both show up to the rink, they do it with a smile and have fun,” Brawley said. “I regret our seniors did not have a full senior season, I wish they could have had more time to have games and play. But we are happy that we’ve had some time together as a team.”
Brawley believes GA had the potential to register a successful season had it been a traditional winter sports season.
“I think we could have done some good things, with two goalies and 23 girls,” she said. “We had some new girls come in as freshman we had a group of solid older upperclassmen, who would have taught those younger players well. Next year, they will chomping at the bit to compete.”
As for the future?
“We have a young group and have a JV program and a bunch of middle school girls coming up,” Brawley said. “Our future looks good.”
Though the team hasn’t experienced the excitement of playing against rivals such as Taft School, Choate Rosemary Hall, Loomis Chaffee, Hotchkiss and Millbrook, it has steadily developed its skills over the course of the shortened season.
“We can see the improvement from that first day of November until now,” Brawley said. “Those individual and slow down practices have helped. Our players have missed the excitement of playing in big games and talking about it. They have missed being together as a team for all of those games. Next season, hopefully, we can pick it back up and make it all work.”