All-State defender Jess Eccleston returns as a senior co-captain of the New Canaan girls ice hockey team this winter. — Dave Stewart photo
The New Canaan girls ice hockey program has always had strong numbers, a factor which has helped make the team a yearly contender in both the FCIAC and state tournaments.
One look at New Canaan’s bench, however, and it’s apparent things have been amplified this season. Now, the Rams aren’t just working with numbers, they’re playing with a small village.
New Canaan goalie Blythe Novick grabs the puck out of the air during a 2-0 shutout of rival Darien on Jan. 24, 2018. — Dave Stewart photo
With the number of players in the program reaching into the high 40s, head coach Rich Bulan will be fielding full rosters at the varsity and junior varsity levels.
It’s a big plus for New Canaan, which is coming off a terrific 19-5 season in which it defeated rival Darien three times in four games, and reached the FCIAC final and the state semifinals.
“We’ve always been lucky that we’ve had quality kids come out, and not only are we still lucky with the numbers, but the talent-level now is higher than we’ve ever had,” Bulan said during the preseason. “So this is really a pleasant surprise.”
The Rams will also be young again, as they’ve added a strong group of 10 freshman to their varsity roster of 26. New Canaan also has seven sophomores, all of whom saw significant ice time last winter, along with three juniors and six seniors.
“The depth is wonderful but to have depth and talent is very cool,” Bulan said. “What we’ve seen so far between practices, our alumni game and then the jamboree (against Darien, Greenwich and Fairfield) on Saturday is very encouraging.”
While the youth is nice, the leadership at the top is strong as well, and the Rams will boast three veteran tri-captains in seniors Jess Eccleston, Katelyn Sparks, and Kara Fahey. All three will be key parts of the defense, with Fahey in the goal.
Eccleston is a four-year starter and was an All-State and All-FCIAC First Teamer last year. Not only is she a lock-down defender, but she has the ability to drive the ice and become an offensive threat as well.
“Jess is a very smart hockey player,” Bulan said. “She’s one of the better defenders in the state, but she’s also like having a fourth forward on the ice with the way she jumps in the play or starts the play. She can control a game if you let her.”
Sparks is a three-year starter and she’s coming off a fantastic season as a defender and captain for the Rams’ soccer team, which reached the FCIAC final.
“Katelyn is the person you want on the ice when there’s chaos in front of the net,” Bulan said. “She clears it out. She’s tough, strong, and she just doesn’t move. That’s the way she was in soccer, too, and she’s brought that to the ice. She’s very smart in front of the net and at that position.”
Fahey joined the Rams as a sophomore. Amazingly, she was new to the position, but caught the eye of Bulan, an assistant coach for the softball team.
“We had no goalie her sophomore year, but she was such a great third baseman in softball, she had the reaction and the glove,” Bulan said. “I approached her, asked her if she wants to play goal and she said okay. She took us to the state semifinals and the FCIAC final that year, so that was pretty cool for someone who had never played hockey before.”
Joining Fahey between the pipes is sophomore Blythe Novick, who earned All-State honors after going 9-4 as a freshman goalie.
“She’s been playing forever and she’s been in pressure situations when she was on highly-ranked travel teams,” Bulan said of Novick. “She was 9-4 and she played four games against Darien, three against Greenwich, and then Amity, Hamden, East Catholic, and Hall/Conard. It was kind of amazing that a freshman could step in and perform that way against those teams.”
The Rams will run three deep at goalie, as sophomore Alexa Madrid, the starter for the JV team, will be called on to play a few games this winter.
New Canaan also features six defensemen, led by the captains Eccleston and Sparks. Sophomores McKenna Harden and Sadie Frame return after strong freshman campaigns, with veteran Sophie Potter back as a junior. Lily Farris, a senior, joins the blue line after transferring from prep school.
Bulan and the Rams are blessed with so much depth that the team could run up to six strong lines, an approach used during the jamboree on Saturday.
Freshman Kaleigh Harden will center one line with sophomore Anika Curri and freshman Grace Crowell on the wings, and another freshman, Angelica Megdanis, will center a line between junior Quincy Connell and sophomore Courtney O’Connell.
A third line will feature three freshmen with Madeline Kloud at center and Jade Lowe and Caitlin Tully on the wings.
Also looking good are the lines of sophomore center Arianna Bell with freshmen wings Marina Mallozzi and Elodie Koo; senior center Theresa Marciano with sophomore Shea Hobbs and freshman Tess Hobbs on the wings; and junior center Lizzy Kuchinski with freshman Grace Flatow and senior Meghan Kloud on the wings.
Another veteran, senior Sarah Murphy, is also in the forward mix but is sidelined with an injury to start the season.
The Rams will begin play with a home game at the Darien Ice House against the always-tough Hall/Conard co-op team at 6 p.m. New Canaan will also host Simsbury at 4:50 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 11.
While New Canaan is young and the season is new, Bulan likes what he’s seen so far.
“Last year, Curri, Hobbs, Harden, Bell, Frame, Novick, and O’Connell all started and were great,” Bulan said. “Now we’ve got another group of freshman coming in with talent.
“We’re very young and sometimes you’re going to get young mistakes. That being said, though, I’ve been so impressed with the maturity level they showed against Darien, Greenwich and Fairfield. I didn’t see a lot of apprehension or nerves; these girls just went out and played. It was really exciting to see.”
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