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Article Published February 20, 2021

Guilford Girls’ Hockey Off to Stellar Start This Winter

By By Dean Bibens

After seeing his team put together an exceptional 2020 season, Guilford girls’ ice hockey Head Coach Rick Binkowski was hoping that last year’s success was the only the beginning of great things to come for his club. So far, Binkowski’s hopes are being realized on the ice as the Grizzlies are off to a stellar start as they look to defend their SCC title this winter.

Guilford has a record 3-0 through its first three games of the campaign. The Grizzlies have outscored their opponents by a combined total of 26-9 in those three victories.

“The score doesn’t even reflect how we’ve played so far,” said Binkowski. “We were up 6-1 in the first game, and then we started mixing in third liners. In the next game, we were up 8-0 at the end of two periods, and then we started mixing in our third liners again. We’ve played very strong hockey so far.”

Guilford’s first two games were both against the Hamden-Wilbur Cross-Lyman Hall-O’Brien Tech co-op squad at Lou Astorino Ice Arena in Hamden. The Grizzlies defeated the co-op by a 7-5 score in their season opener on Feb. 14 and then came back to grab an 11-3 victory in the rematch on Feb. 17.

Junior captain center Maddie Epke had four goals with an assist in the 7-5 victory, while sophomore center Kim Evans scored a goal to go with an assist for Guilford. Freshmen Sofia Cuozzo and Ryleigh Gagnon, who play wing and defense, respectively, each scored the first goals of their careers in the win.

“We lost six seniors last year, but these freshmen have been sensational so far. Ryleigh Gagnon and Sofia Cuozzo have both been really strong for us,” Coach Binkowski said. “The only real problem that we’re dealing with right now is that the season started so late, so it took us longer to get in shape. But we’re getting back into the swing of things.”

Epke, Evans, and Cuozzo all had a hat trick by netting three goals apiece in the Grizzlies’ 11-3 win versus the Hamden co-op. Junior wing Mainey DePetris scored two goals for Guilford in the victory. Epke and junior captain defender Olivia Gill both had three assists, and Cuozzo also dished out an assist for Coach Binkowski’s squad.

On the heels of their first two victories, the Grizzlies claimed an 8-1 win over Hand-Coginchaug-Valley-Old Lyme at Northford Ice Pavilion on Feb. 21. Epke tallied three goals with four assists, while Cuozzo had three goals and three assists in the victory. Evans also had a goal and an assist, Gill dished out two assists, and sophomore Anastasia Petritz scored a goal for Guilford.

Epke already has 10 goals and eight assists through Guilford’s first three contests. Cuozzo has scored seven goals, and Evans has five goals thus far.

“Maddie, believe it or not, has gotten stronger and she’s gotten faster. She’s already committed to James Madison University as a junior to play lacrosse. She’s a tremendous athlete, and she’s become even more dangerous for our team this season,” Binkowski said. “The things that people don’t about Maddie is that she is the tide that lifts all the boats for us. She inspires her teammates to do better, and she’s very unselfish on top of all of that. She wants her teammates involved.”

Fellow captain Gill has also been playing some excellent hockey for the Grizzlies in 2021. Coach Binkowski said that Gill is doing a great job of anchoring the Guilford defense, thus allowing the Grizzlies to play more aggressively on the offensive side of the ice.

“Out of 200 opportunities with the puck in a game, Olivia maybe makes one mistake all game,” said Binkowski. “She’s very smart and allows us to get some of our younger players on the ice without having to worry that we might let up a goal. She handles the puck so well, and she gives everyone around her confidence.”

Junior goalie Julia McDonald, an alternate captain, has been steady in net for the Grizzlies this winter, making 21 saves in their first win and then coming up with 20 saves in the ensuing victory. Binkowski said that McDonald is doing a tremendous job of preventing the opposition from getting multiple attempts on net following the first shot.

“Julia worked really hard in the offseason. She’s very responsive in net,” said Binkowski, whose other alternate captain is senior defender Christina Garafalo. “A lot of goalies can make that first save easily. She’s picked up her game, and she’s making those second and third saves, which has allowed our defense to make more plays and clear the puck out of our zone.”

While every game is important, Coach Binkowski is especially looking forward to Guilford’s matchups against West Haven-Sacred Heart Academy (WH-SHA) and Amity-Cheshire-North Haven. Binkowski believes that those two teams present the biggest challenge to the Grizzlies in the SCC this year. Guilford played WH-SHA on Feb. 23 (after press time).

“Both of those teams are very well-coached, and they’re going to give us fierce competition,” Binkowski said. “The goal is to successfully defend our SCC title in 2021, and I know the girls are ready for the challenge.”

One battle that Binkowski knows his team cannot win is the one against COVID-19. The Guilford’s boys’ ice hockey squad recently had its season put on pause due to possible COVID exposure, and Binkowski doesn’t want to see the same thing happen to the girls’ team.

“It’s the one opponent we can’t beat,” said Binkowski. “At this point, everyone understands what has to be done to protect ourselves and our teammates from the coronavirus. We told the girls from the beginning that this was going to be a short season. They know that if they want to play hockey, they have to stay home and practice social distancing, so we can keep this season alive. Unfortunately, it’s almost unavoidable at this point.”