What to know about the Connecticut high school girls ice hockey season in the CHSGHA

A closer look at what you should know entering the 2022-23 Connecticut high school girls hockey season:

Where did the goalies go?

The exodus of top goalies to graduation or prep schools is pronounced this year, leaving many top contenders with newcomers between the pipes. Gone to graduation are GameTimeCT first teamer Cailtin O’Brien of Simsbury, Grace Nowak of West Haven/SHA, Claire Haupt of Darien, and Maren Riley of ETB, among others. New Canaan’s Nikki Ferraro, the second goalie to earn GameTimeCT first team honors last year, Trumbull’s Elsa Haakonsen, and Suffield’s Teagan Mabrysmith all left for Prep schools. Among the top returners are Kelsey Kowal, who had significant playing time for ETB last year, and Emma Kunschner in Greenwich. Others will no doubt emerge as solid players, but the position is wide open to start the winter.

Good-bye to two shooting stars

Goalie wasn’t the only position to graduate top players, as New Canaan’s Kaleigh Harden and Guilford’s Maddie Epke both wrapped up stellar careers last winter. The two forwards were four-year and three-sport stars and collected numerous championships for their schools. Harden finished in dramatic fashion, netting the game-winning goal in triple overtime of the Rams’ CHSGHA state final win over Darien. Both Harden and Epke finished on top with lacrosse championships in the spring and are playing lacrosse in college - Harden at North Carolina and Epke at James Madison. They are tough acts to follow.

The unpredictable CCC

Since girls ice hockey moved under the CCC umbrella in 2019-20, the conference has crowned three different champions in three years. Simsbury kicked off as the league’s first champ in 2020, Suffield took the 2021 crown, and Avon won its first CCC title last winter. The conference is typically well-balanced, which makes it difficult to predict a champion or even who the finalists will be. Avon, now the Southington co-op, is bidding to become the CCC’s first repeat champion, and has a few key players back, including Nicole Partridge and Bella Bonfiglio, both of whom were key during the postseason run last year. The ETB Storm is also a strong contender, with Simsbury and last year’s runner-up Conard/Hall all figuring to make some noise.

Woodstock joins the CT party

After playing primarily out-of-state competition for the past five seasons, Woodstock Academy is skating into the Connecticut arena for 2022-23. The Centaurs, who are independent, will be eligible for the CHSGHA tournament, with 16 of their 20 games against in-state opponents. The minimum requirement to qualify is 14. The CCC, the closest geographical conference to Woodstock Academy, entered into a scheduling agreement with Woodstock, and each team will face the Centaurs once, with the Suffield and Mercy co-ops adding a second contest. The Centaurs will also have four games each against SCC and FCIAC opponents. Woodstock Academy, which is coached by Eric Roy, is a co-op which includes players from East Lyme, Wheeler, and Ledyard among others.

New faces in charge

Five of the CHSGHA’s 22 teams have new head coaches this year, a nearly 25% change from last winter. In Greenwich, Doug Jebb will lead the always-strong Cardinals, replacing Brooke Heron, who coached one season after taking over for Alex Lerchen. Paul Bafundo is now at the helm for Ridgefield/Danbury, replacing Frank Oakes, and Steve Minichini replaces Greg Mondo for the Fairfield co-op. Further north in the CCC, George Devita is the new head coach for perennial league and state contender Simsbury. He replaces Dave Olechna, who is now coaching the Trojans’ boys hockey program. The Conard/Hall co-op, last year’s CCC runner-up, is now coached by Paul Stone, who replaces Ben Soucy.

David.Stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports