Girls hockey preview: New coach hopes to ring in new era for Wilton

After the course of its seven-year history, the Wilton High girls hockey program has had its ups and downs, as the last two seasons have shown.

Two years ago, the Warriors had one of their best years ever, going 9-9-1 and making the FCIAC playoffs for only the second time. But they struggled last season, finishing at 3-16-1, with only one FCIAC win.

With better depth and scoring potential this season, new head coach Peter Maxfield believes Wilton will be on the upswing again as it begins its eighth season.

“I was very pleasantly surprised when we had our first practice. I think our upper level girls are really going to make an impact,” said Maxfield, whose team opens the season on Wednesday against Notre Dame-Fairfield at Milford Ice Pavilion (4:15). “The girls are working really hard. We should be competitive. I think we’ll catch a few people by surprise.”

The team, which also includes several players from two Norwalk schools — Norwalk High and Brien McMahon — has 24 players, 15 of whom were in the program a year ago.

“It’s a good mix,” said the coach. “Their attitude has been fantastic. I’ve been really pleased. They’re all there early every (5:45 a.m.) practice.”

The team did lose some important players. Gone are top defenseman Monica Prario, who was second-team all-FCIAC last season, first-line forward Amanda D’Arbanville (honorable mention all-FCIAC) and defenseman Jennifer Hojnacki (honorable mention all-FCIAC), along with some other contributors such as forwards Caroline Costello and Shannon Wolpiuk and defenseman Caroline Coupe.

Fortunately, one player who is back is senior Brooke Jonsson, a four-year starter in goal who earned first-team all-FCIAC honors a year ago. She will give the Warriors the luxury of having an elite goalie as the last line of defense.

Also back is first-line defenseman Izzy Thelen, a junior in her third year on the varsity team. Last season, Thelen earned honorable mention all-FCIAC recognition, in addition to finishing second on the team with five goals.

The Warriors also return junior Lily Blackwell, another three-year starter on defense, along with junior Lily McDowell and sophomore Caroline Wilson. Senior Lily Walsh, who is back after not playing last season, also will contribute on the backline.

Scoring was a big problem last season, as Wilton tallied only 22 goals in 20 games, but Maxfield is confident that trend won’t continue this season. The Warriors have seven to eight forwards who are capable of contributing and putting the puck in the net.

“I definitely see the goal count going up,” he said.

Leading the way will be senior forwards Liz Craven (team-high six goals) and Amanda Craven (one goal), both four-year varsity players, and two returning sophomores — Molly Thomas (three goals) and Shannon McEveney (one goal) — who played on the first forward line last season.

The team also returns junior forwards Ali Purvis and Alison Danvers, while new sophomore forward Anna Bean is expected to make an immediate impact, said Maxfield.

Other returning players for Wilton are senior defenseman Jessica Walsh, senior forward Lia Taverez and sophomore forward Lauren Chiappetta.

Other than Bean, the other key newcomer is sophomore Izzy Najah, who provides the team with a second goalie this season and, more importantly, a goalie for the future. Although she’s never played before, Najah is a good athlete and has “done a spectacular job” thus far, said Maxfield.

Also new to the program are senior forward Olivia Phelan, junior forward Georgia Brown, junior defenseman Kelly Meyer, sophomore forwards Lauren Gardner and Caleigh McMorris, and

freshman forwards Kimberly Castano and Gianna Filippponi.

Notes: Maxfield replaces Melissa Hawkins, who coached the Warriors the past two seasons. He previously coached the Joel Barlow boys hockey team from 2005-14, and the Masuk-Barlow co-op girls hockey team last winter.

His assistant coaches this season are Brittany Dougherty and Jeffy Emerson, who returns as volunteer coach.

Dougherty was a four-year player (at forward) for the University of Maine women’s hockey team from 2009-13. She is currently a member of the Connecticut Whale professional women’s hockey team in the National Women’s Hockey League.

Wilton has a busy December, with seven games in 14 days to open the season.