When the Wilton-Norwalk girls hockey team was started more than a decade ago, it opened up new horizons for girls who were playing already, or who were thinking about hitting the ice.
While the success of the program speaks for itself — it celebrated its 10th anniversary this past winter — what’s not well known is what happens after the players move on.
For many of the former Warriors, the love of the game has continued on the collegiate level.
Some had played youth hockey, others began in high school or right before. Some were top players for the Warriors, other were role players.
But the love of hockey unites them, and their message to younger players is, Don’t quit.
“For the younger players, especially those who are new and struggling, who are considering quitting, please don’t, you are capable of so much more than you know,” said 2017 graduate Kelly Meyer, who plays club hockey at Northeastern University.
“Playing hockey in college was one of the best decisions I made, it was the first club I joined at school and it was the best way to meet new people and make friends during my first semester,” said 2015 graduate Amanda D’Arbanville, who plays club hockey at the University of Connecticut. “Club teams and school teams obviously vary from school to school, but based on my experience it is fairly competitive and not too much of a time commitment.”
In addition to Meyer and D’Arbanville, other former Warriors who have continued to play at college include Lara Schnitzler (Class of 2011), Christie Huidekoper (Class of 2011), Nicole Lue (Class of 2014), 2016 graduates Amanda and Elizabeth Craven and Brooke Jonsson, and 2017 grad Ali Purvis.
Purvis, in fact, has spearheaded the effort to start a women’s club team at George Mason University.
“I love being a part of a team and gaining leadership skills while also playing the greatest sport ever,” she said. “Ice hockey is a great way to meet friends and be a part of a team throughout your school years and after you graduate.”
Amanda Craven plays on the coed team at Bucknell University.
“Being the only girl on a men’s club ice hockey team has taught me that hockey is a sport that transcends many things that could be complicated. People who all have a love of hockey in common can connect and share on the amazing experiences that come from playing this sport on a team,” said Craven. “I have also learned I perform better in other aspects of my life, like school and extracurricular activities, when having hockey as an outlet.”
“It’s often hard to put into words what makes the game so special and why my love for it hasn’t changed since I was 6 years old. One thing I love is being a part of a whole while on the ice. The teamwork mentality is a really awesome environment to be a part of and contribute toward,” said Lue. “I love that as a team, we succeed and fail together and have each other’s backs no matter what. Ice hockey has taught me how important it is and how much I love being a team player.”
Schnitzler, who played club hockey at St. Lawrence University, said she still continues to play in pickup leagues in the Boston area.
“To the little ones: Make each time you step on the ice count, and always remember to have fun,” she commented.
“At the collegiate level I learned that in hockey, like so many other aspects of life, you get out of it what you put into it,” said Huidekoper, who played club hockey at Miami University of Ohio. “My advice to younger players is to make as many friends as you can, and remember what you love about the game.”
“I love playing hockey because of the team-bonding aspect and being able to feel close with my peers,” said Elizabeth Craven, who now plays on the club team at Boston University and plans to keep playing after college. “I have learned that I love the people I play with as much as the sport itself. I would like to share the importance of sticking with what you love. I have learned that being the best on the ice is not as important as doing what you love.”
Johnson, Wilton’s first all-state player in 2016, has continued to play at the club level at St. Lawrence University, and hopes to continue to play in the future.
“I grew up with hockey, so I don’t think it would be too easy to ever stop playing,” she said. “What I love about playing hockey is being competitive with some of my closest friends, even when they are not on my team. Because I played youth hockey for so many different teams, I became friends with the players on those teams. Then when we played each other in the high school season, it was really fun to play against them.”
Jeffy Emerson, the Wilton-Norwalk team’s assistant coach, has long championed the cause of women’s hockey, and hopes girls and their parents continue to see hockey as a sport in their future.
“I’m 56 this year and I’m still playing. It’s a life sport,” she said. “We definitely have seen impressive growth and we want parents to see that.”