Hockey in July: Connecticut girls team 4-0 at HNIB Festival

The Connecticut High School Girls Hockey Association team, which went 4-0 at the Hockey Night In Boston SE/RI Festival at the Bog in Kingston, Mass. on July 13-14.

The Connecticut High School Girls Hockey Association team, which went 4-0 at the Hockey Night In Boston SE/RI Festival at the Bog in Kingston, Mass. on July 13-14.

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During the winter girls ice hockey season, they are opponents.

For two days in July, however, they became teammates, and the results were perfect.

A team of 21 of the top Connecticut High School Girls Hockey Association players, all rising seniors and juniors, went unbeaten through four games at Hockey Night In Boston’s South East/Rhode Island Festival at The Bog, in Kingston Mass., on July 13-14.

The group included players from all three Connecticut conferences - FCIAC, SCC and CCC - and was coached by ETB’s Frank Usseglio and New Canaan’s Rich Bulan.

The competitions give players a chance to be seen by college coaches during both Festival games and a post-tournament Showcase, but there’s an added attraction, according to Usseglio.

“One of the best things about it is they get to meet, appreciate and root for some of these kids who maybe they see on the ice, or they hear their coach talk about, but they don’t really know,” Usseglio said. “Plus they get to measure themselves against those kids as well. You can really tell who the best players are when you’re out there with the best kids in the state.”

It was the third year in which Connecticut was competing in the festival, and the team was dominant as well in 2019. Last year’s event was limited to skills competition due to the pandemic.

Connecticut was dominant, winning each game by at least three goals, including scores of 7-2, 6-1, 4-0 and 7-4.

Seven players were selected to the Girls Major Showcase, including goalie Kaitlyn O’Brien (Simsbury), defenders Amanda Benson (New Canaan) and Kendall Conley (Trumbull), and forwards Natalie Ewald (Ellington), Meadow Gilchrist (Westhill), Maddie Kloud (New Canaan), and Nicole Partridge (Wethersfield).

The rest of the CHSGHA roster featured goalies Grace Nowak (West Haven) and Teagan Mabrysmith (EO Smith); defenders Sophia Blais (Canton), Olivia Lonski (East Catholic), Norah McCauliffe (East Catholic), and Bella Pachecho (Glastonbury); and forwards Maya Boyhen (Hamden), Devon Cavaliere (Trumbull), Avery DePodesta (Cheshire), Sarah Dolynchuk (Fairfield), Grace Flatow (New Canaan), Nina Holm (RHAM), Caroline Lawrence (Greenwich), and Sophia Nower (Wethersfield).

Usseglio said the coaches picked players who were entering their senior and junior years to get them more exposure to college coaches.

To start, players were put together on lines geographically for “comfort level” and then the combinations would switch every game, and sometimes in-game.

“At first the girls say ‘can we keep the lines the way they are?’, but by design, we want to get them playing with all the kids,” Usseglio said. “So we had a number of different combinations, including in-game just to get kids skating with different kids. By the end, they love that.”

Even the goalies had a chance to play in every game, with O’Brien, Mabrysmith, and Nowak each playing a period.

Bulan praised the play of O’Brien, who became the team’s third period minder on the second day.

“By the time they got into day two, we realized Kaitlyn’s the closer, she’s Mariano (Rivera),” Bulan said with a laugh. “She played great.”

Bulan added that having played together during the Festival adds to the competition during the CHSGHA season.

“You’ve met somebody and you’ve learned about them,” Bulan said. “So when you play during the season, you still play hard and you still want to beat each other, but it’s a total respect thing. It’s great for the game.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports