Fairfield co-op (Warde, Ludlowe) girls ice hockey preview

The Fairfield co-op girls' ice hockey team -- drawing players from Fairfield Warde and Fairfield Ludlowe since the late 1990s -- did not lose many starters from last year's team that went 6-11. But those losses through graduation claimed both captains -- Steph Gabriel, their starting goalie for the last two seasons, and Nikki Szymanski.

Coach Paul Kelly, in his fifth year, has seven players returning with experience, including senior captains Gabby Bochenczyk, a center, Paige Reynolds (forward), Tabbey Cascella (center) and Casey Crowley (forward). An influx of freshman players, which does not occur every year, will add to Fairfield's depth and provide promise for stronger seasons in the future. Among the newcomers, Kelly is most encouraged by ninth-grade defenders Sarah Powlishen, with her puck handling skills, and Courtney Sheets, who brings strong skating.

Bochenczyk is one of the team's best skaters and shooters, Reynolds plays with composure, Cascella is a reliable scorer and Crowley supplies a scoring touch. Junior sisters Anna Collimore (defense) and Lucie Collimore (center) add experience. Junior Phoebe Cascella, Gabriel's backup previously, is ready to assume the duties as the starting goaltender.

"Some of these girls have been playing together for four years, and this connection leads to smooth passing, aggressive plays and accurate shots," said Kelly, who is being assisted by Paul Jalbert and Anna DeVeau-Jalbert, a former Fairfield co-op player.

"One part of our team is our openness to invite completely inexperienced players to join. This is important to us as it helps the girls learn the game without the pressure of being the best on the team. Three of our captains started out with no experience as freshmen and are three of our best players today," Kelly said.

The FCIAC and SCC, with CCC schools Simsury and Hall/Conard, are the only two leagues in the state. The state champion has come from the FCIAC every year except 2011-12 (Hall/Conard). Most years the state final has featured two FCIAC schools. The schools playing in the FCIAC are defending state champion New Canaan, 2013 FCIAC champion Darien, Ridgefield, Greenwich, Wilton, Stamford co-op (Westhill/Staples) and Trumbull/St. Joseph co-op.

Fairfield opened the season on Wednesday at Greenwich and plays Notre Dame-Fairfield, for the first of two meetings in 2013-14, on Friday at 4:40 p.m. at the Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport, the co-op's home rink.