Guilford Girls’ Hockey Wishing for a Way to Play
Junior forward Maddie Epke and her teammates on the Guilford girls’ ice hockey squad are hoping for the chance to hit the ice this winter. The 2021 winter season is tentatively slated to start with practices on Tuesday, Jan. 19. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Junior goalie Julia McDonald returns to the net on the heels of a season that saw her be named the Most Outstanding Player of the SCC Tournament, which Guilford won for the first time in 2020. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Junior Olivia Gill will be holding things down on defense for the Guilford girls’ ice hockey team this year, provided that Head Coach Rick Binkowski’s club is able to take the ice amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Forward Daniella Vickerman is a key member of a talented junior class for the Guilford girls’ ice hockey squad. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Forward Kim Evans had a big freshman year for Guilford last season and is looking for continued success as a sophomore. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
As it stands right now, the 2021 high school winter sports season is scheduled to begin with practices on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Head Coach Rick Binkowski and the athletes on the Guilford girls’ ice hockey team are holding out hope that a season will come to fruition, but they understand that there are still are several hurdles to overcome.
The first obstacle for Guilford is finding a home rink at which to compete. Guilford typically plays at DiLungo Rink in East Haven, but the facility will be closed this winter after the Town of East Haven estimated that it needs in upwards of $1.4 million in repair work. The second obstacle is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been wreaking havoc around the world since last March.
As much as Coach Binkowski wants to see his athletes hit the ice—wherever that may be—he knows that prospect is anything but a guarantee.
“I’d love to say, ‘Yes, there will be a season.’ I really want there to be a season,” said Binkowski. “The longer this goes on, the more likely it is that we won’t have a season. It’s all based on the numbers. I don’t know that the rates have gone down at all. I think they’ve continued to go up all across the country. I wouldn’t be surprised if they extend the moratorium on sports.”
This season would mark Binkowski’s third year as Guilford’s head coach. Guilford is coming off of its best campaign in program history—one that saw the team claim its first SCC title on its way to an overall record of 17-6.
One of the major reasons for Guilford’s success during the 2019-’20 season was the play of Maddie Epke, who started in all 23 games. Epke, now a junior, scored 59 goals to go with 30 assists for a total of 89 points, which was the most on the squad. Epke earned All-SCC First Team accolades and was also selected as the SCC Player of the Year.
Fellow forward Daniella Vickerman, currently a junior, had 18 goals with 31 assists for Guilford last year. Kim Evans, who is in her sophomore year, tallied the second-most goals scored with 25 on the season.
This year, Epke is serving as one of Guilford’s co-captains alongside junior defender Olivia Gill. Senior defender Christina Garofalo and junior goalkeeper Julia McDonald are the team’s alternate captains. Gill was an All-SCC Second Team honoree last winter, while McDonald was named the Most Outstanding Player of the SCC Tournament after making 39 saves when Guilford notched a 4-2 win over Amity-North Haven-Cheshire in the conference final.
Coach Binkowski thinks that Guilford will be in the mix to win another SCC title if the winter season ultimately takes place.
“I’m most looking forward to us trying to successfully defend our SCC championship. We lost a few players, but we retained a good majority of our core from last year,” Binkowski said. “I’m excited to see what the freshmen bring to the table. I’m also excited to see how some of these players mature that were underclassmen last year. We lost six seniors, and every one of them was significant to our team.”
The seniors who have graduated from last year’s team include Mary Evans and Lily Mackey, who were the captains; Jaime Neleber, who was an assistant captain; along with Ava Bucci, Megan Fernandes, and Audrey Rowan.
This season, Guilford’s roster features seniors Piper Doheny and Garofalo; juniors Epke, Gill, Vickerman, McDonald, Haley Kruczek, Brianna Lent, and Maine DePetris; sophomores Kim Evans, Anastasia Petritz, Caroline Schwartz, Kaili Rosa, and Alex Glascoff; and freshmen Sofia Cuozzo, Ryleigh Gagnon, Lillian Schroeder, and Tanya Evans.
Guilford’s assistant coaches are Tom Epke, Graham Gill, and Scott Neleber. Gill is replacing former assistant Kitty Palmer, who is also the head coach of Guilford field hockey, on Binkowski’s coaching staff.
“Graham will be stepping in for Coach Palmer this season, and I’m looking forward to working with him,” said Binkowksi. “I really just want to see these kids continue to improve and see how these freshmen perform. Once we get more experience together, then we will be able to ramp up the intensity in practices.”
Binkowski said that he will feel grateful if Guilford is afforded an opportunity to play hockey in 2021. With coaches and players around the state awaiting the CIAC’s final verdict on the season, Binkowski said that his team will be ready to go one way or the other.
“I think all in all, we’ll be lucky to be playing if we get the opportunity,” Binkowski. “We all should be happy to oblige to any changes we need to make in order to play. We will do our part to social distance and make sure everyone is wearing a mask. Some teams have already canceled their seasons. There’s a lot of things that are up in the air at this point.”