As its first two games of the season illustrated, the Greenwich Academy ice hockey team is primed and poised to contend with the ultra-competitive opponents it will face this season, after a one-year hiatus.
Like all teams in each winter sport during the 2020-2021 season, Greenwich Academy was relegated to holding a handful of practices and scrimmages due to COVID-19 safety guidelines, yet GA will be treated to a full schedule of games this season and coach Erin Brawley’s team is ready to showcase their skills.
Though the Gators began their 2021-2022 campaign with close losses against formidable Canterbury School and New Canaan, they indeed, exhibited plenty of positive signs that should help the program going forward.
“The effort has been incredible and the captains are really proud of the team,” said senior defender/tri-captain Ava Butz, who is in her fifth varsity season. “It’s frustrating to lose those close games, but moving forward, I think we can win these games in the future.”
GA began the season with a 2-0 loss against Canterbury, then played New Canaan to a near standstill in a tough 4-3 loss to New Canaan, one of the best teams in the FCIAC.
“The girls have shown a lot of effort in the first two weeks of practice and the two games they’ve given a lot of effort,” said Brawley, who is beginning her fourth season at the helm and is assisted by Moe Tarrant, the squad’s previous head coach. “The bounces haven’t gone our way yet, but they’re coming. I keep telling the girls, ‘your time is going to come, just keep working hard.'”
The Gators will aim to get their first win of the season Wednesday against visiting NEPSAC opponent Choate Rosemary Hall at Chelsea Piers Connecticut in Stamford. A road matchup against Millbrook School (Dec. 11) precedes a home game against Frederick Gunn School (Dec. 15). Greenwich Academy will then compete in the St. George’s School Tournament (Dec. 17-18), entering the Holiday Season. Their first matchup of the new year is scheduled for Jan. 4 versus Portledge School.
“We just want to be in the games, work hard, do the best we can stay in games and hopefully get some lucky bounces along the way,” said Brawley, whose GA team has traditionally been in contention for a berth in the NEPSAC Tournament. “I want to see us show up ready to work each day.”
Like Butz, senior Cameron Brower has been a mainstay on the team for numerous seasons. Brower and junior Ellie Volpe, both of whom excelled on GA’s field hockey team this past fall, are also serving as tri-captains.
Brower helps lead the Gators’ rotation of defenders with Butz.
“I definitely really like the team dynamic this year,” said Brower, who will play field hockey at Quinnipiac University next year. “We have a lot of new people, a lot of people have not played at the varsity level, because of the lack of games last year. The people who were looking good last year, came back this year, which is exciting.”
Depth isn’t an issue, as GA has a good number of athletes to fill each position.
“The skill level has definitely gone up and I’m overall excited,” said Brower, who was also one of the captains of the school’s field hockey team. “The first two games were tough losses, but the effort was there. The chemistry is definitely making its way and we’re excited to keep going and see what we can do.”
Volpe, who was Greenwich Academy’s starting field hockey goalie, keys one of the squad’s forward lines, where she plays left wing.
“I’m super excited about being one of the captains,” Volpe said. “It’s cool to learn from Ava and Cameron this year and then next year, I get to be one of the senior captains and lead, so I’m excited about that too.”
In Monday’s matchup against New Canaan at Darien Ice House, Butz, Nina Herceg and Chloe Cleaves each scored a goal for Greenwich Academy.
“The effort has been amazing and obviously that’s been reflected in the really close scores,” Volpe said. “I think we’re all excited about the team. Building team chemistry is going to be huge. We haven’t been playing together for long, so we need to get all of our systems working and then we’ll have a lot of success.”
Brawley is already impressed with the leadership she’s seen from the team’s trio of captains.
“Their work ethic on and off the ice speaks for itself,” she said. “They know how to lead the team off the ice, they know how to lead the team on the ice. Moe (Tarrant) and I are so happy to have them, we know they are going to show up every day and get done what we need to get done.”
Senior Emily Greenhaw, also a cross country and lacrosse athlete, is one of GA’s goalies. Greenhaw started against New Canaan and turned in a stellar performance. Junior Liana Seeley also returns in goal. Seeley got the start in the squad’s season-opener against Canterbury and was also impressive.
“We’re looking forward to having both of them split time here and there in the net,” Brawley said of the team’s goalies.
Brower, Ava Butz, senior Jordan Pittignano, junior Lucy Burdett, Cameron Butz (junior) and eighth grader Chloe Cleaves are among Greenwich Academy’s key defenders.
“There’s a lot of us, it’s great,” Butz said of the team’s defensive unit. “We are more of a defensive team this year. A lot of our veterans and returning players play defense. But we have a good offense too and our goaltending is always great.”
Like her fellow captains, Butz embraces her leadership role.
“I’ve been on the team since I was in eighth grade, so being a captain has been a dream of mine for a long time,” said Butz, who will play lacrosse at Cornell. “I want to make everyone on the team proud.”
Brawley knows the defensemen are significant asset to the team.
“They are all doing very well, getting pucks in deep and they’re clearing pucks out from in front of the net,” GA’s coach said.
Volpe, Herceg, a junior, who scored her first career Greenwich Academy goal off a rebound in front of the net in the team’s game against New Canaan, sophomore Peyton Williams, senior Kate Boer, Lindsay Hasapis (senior), junior Rebecca Arpano, Molly Roth (sophomore) Winnie Welch (junior), Phelan Bryant (sophomore), Ella Zea, Lila Cabot (freshman) and Caroline Watts (freshman) comprise GA’s group of forwards.
In January, GA will test its skills against NEPSAC rivals such as Millbrook School (Jan. 22), Loomis Chaffee (Jan. 28) and Hotchkiss (Jan. 12). Games against Taft School (Feb. 9) and Greenwich Country Day School (Feb. 2, Feb. 14) and Canterbury (Feb. 23) will take place the following month.
“If we can win a lot of those really close games against some of the tougher boarding schools it will be huge,” Volpe said.
“I’m excited to help lead a team this year with a new set of skills,” Brower said. “Hockey is such a fun season, I always look forward to the winter season.”