Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Sports Person of the Week

Gagnon Geared Up to Play Great Defense for the Grizzlies


Ryleigh Gagnon has been playing hockey for the Shoreline Sharks for the past several years. Now, Ryleigh is looking to make an impact on the ice as a freshman with the Guilford girls’ hockey squad. Photo courtesy of Ryleigh Gagnon

Ryleigh Gagnon has been playing hockey for the Shoreline Sharks for the past several years. Now, Ryleigh is looking to make an impact on the ice as a freshman with the Guilford girls’ hockey squad. (Photo courtesy of Ryleigh Gagnon )

Ryleigh Gagnon is only a freshman, but Head Coach Rick Binkowski has high expectations about what she can achieve in her first season with the Guilford girls’ ice hockey team. Ryleigh brings a good amount of experience to the Grizzlies, and she’s looking to use what she’s learned from all that ice time to help the club have another stellar year.

A defender, Ryleigh has been playing hockey since she was five. Ryleigh’s father Chris was always watching hockey on television and eventually encouraged her to play. Since then, Ryleigh has developed a love for the game, while competing for a well-known local program.

“I started skating when I was five with the Shoreline Sharks Learn to Love Hockey program. I played other sports like soccer and gymnastics, but I loved being on the ice,” says Ryleigh. “My dad is a huge hockey fan, and he would always have hockey on. One day, he came home with a hockey stick and a Bruins’ jersey, and that was it. I was hooked.”

Ryleigh enjoys all the aspects of playing ice hockey. Whether it’s the inclusiveness of being part of a team or those pregame rituals before the puck drops, Ryleigh embraces every second of the experience.

“I love being part of a team that works together with speed and precision,” Ryleigh says. “In hockey, there are fun traditions during pre-game rituals, like the way I tape my stick and the friends I get to hang out with. I love hearing the hype and cheers from my teammates and coaches when I am on the ice. It’s an adrenaline rush every time the puck drops, and then it’s go-time.”

One of Ryleigh’s favorite moments leading up to the start of her high school career came as a member of the Shoreline Sharks’ U-14 black team. Ryleigh scored the game-tying goal for the Sharks when they faced the Mid-Fairfield Stars in the Connecticut Hockey Conference (CHC) state championship game.

“I’d have to say that scoring the game-tying goal against Mid-Fairfield Stars in the CHC State Championship game was pretty awesome,” says Ryleigh. “It’s nice to contribute to the offense as a defenseman during a high-stakes game.”

Ryleigh is constantly looking for ways to improve her game through her efforts both on and off the ice. Ryleigh currently attends classes at MB Sports Training in Northford and also rollerblades when she doesn’t have the opportunity to skate.

“I go to MB Sports Training two to three times per week, stickhandle in my driveway, and shoot pucks. I also train with IPH [Hockey],” Ryleigh says. “During COVID, when rinks got shut down, we even trained on Zoom with stickhandling. I rollerblade when I can’t get on the ice.”

Coach Binkowski is excited to have Ryleigh join the Grizzlies, especially since the team has graduated two defenders from last season. Ryleigh is slated to join senior captain Olivia Gill on the first line of Guilford’s defense.

“Ryleigh’s a strong player and she played with the Shoreline Sharks...and I’m excited to see what she brings,” Binkowski says. “We lost two strong defenders, so it’s good that she’s here to help fill that void.”

When Ryleigh isn’t playing hockey, she enjoys spending time with friends, in addition to drawing and painting. She also likes to play with her dog Sully, a golden retriever.

“I love the beach and nature,” says Ryleigh. “I love to do photography, especially sunsets at the beach near my house. I’m pretty creative when I get down time, but I do love Netflix.”

Ryleigh is definitely ready for the winter season to get going. Ryleigh feels confident that Guilford has a great year ahead as the team strives to defend its Southern Connecticut Conference title.

“The girls had a great season last year, winning SCCs, and we’re hoping to repeat this year,” Ryleigh says. “We are going to have to show up and put in the effort to beat these teams. There are many great players on surrounding teams that have great skills. I can’t wait to see where the season takes us. I am looking forward to having a strong, winning season with my team.”

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