Whenever the winter season starts up for Vermont high school athletics, things will certainly look different.
There will be no fans in the stands, athletes and coaches and anyone in the building will have to wear a mask and a number of other things that will make this season different than in year’s past.
One thing that probably won’t change is seeing the BFA-St. Albans girls hockey team toward the top of the Division I standings.
The perennial powerhouse Comets will certainly be different in the fact they will be younger after graduating eight players from last year’s squad. The team will consist of two seniors, six juniors, 10 sophomores and three freshmen.
“I would say we are much younger this year than we were last year,” said BFA coach Luke Cioffi. “We have 10 new players on the team this year, but we do return a good group of players.”
The team will also be returning a number of key players from last year’s team including senior goaltender Macie Boissonneault who finished last season with an 8-2-1 record splitting time with Maddie Hungerford. Boissonneault also finished with a 1.182 goals against average and finished with five shutouts on last year’s season.
Junior Sophie Zemianek will also continue to play a strong role from the point after finishing last season with 13 goals and 13 assists. And sophomore Jodie Gratton will continue to lead the charge up front, as she finished last season with a team-high 36 points with 18 goals and 18 assists.
“It’s always nice to start any season with a strong set of returning players,” said Cioffi. “And those returning can continue to build on the Comet leadership lessons that they learned last year and have a great opportunity to continue to build on this season.”
The Comets finished last year with a 17-4-1 record falling to eventual champion Essex in a heartbreaker in the final minute of the semifinals.
They will take their young team into the season looking for their 12th championship. The Comets program currently has the most state titles to their name with 11 followed by rival Essex, who has eight after last year’s championship.
The team will have a good mix of returning players and youth in both of its defense and forward groups. The defense has Zemianek, Chiara Skeels, Rowan Howrigan and Rachel Needleman returning. Sophomores Molly Smith and Aylah Shea will be two newcomers to the defensive core.
The forward group will be led by Gratton with Maddie Montagne and Calla Bordeau also returning.
“Both groups are promising, but we will have many new combinations with our forward group this season,” said Cioffi. “We will count on our returning players and several newcomers to lead the charge on the offensive side of things.”
The team would obviously love to be playing games by now, but due to Governor Phil Scott’s orders, they haven’t been able to go up against any competition.
But Cioffi has found a way to use that time to help get everyone ready for whenever the Governor gives the green light on games.
“We have had two weeks just to work on skills, which has been awesome,” said Cioffi. “It allowed us to get to know the skills each players brings with her and what they need to work on. They have been receptive to the team building activities that we have done on the ice. Getting to know everybody has taken a new twist this year, but everybody is working at getting to know each other and supporting each other on and off the ice.”
Joining Smith and Shea as newcomers to the team are sophomore Seneca Lamos (center), freshman Caroline Bliss (forward), freshman Rae Alexander (forward) and freshman Makenna Montgomery (goalie).
“We are fortunate that mane of the new players to the Comets this year have spent time on the SASA teams,” said Cioffi. “We are blessed with some quality coaches in SASA that help prepare the players for high school hockey. All the players making their Comet debut are excellent additions to the team. The improvement in the first two weeks has been awesome. Skating, passing, shooting and speed have all shown improvement.”
The Comets are patiently waiting for the green light to open up their game schedule, but are continuing to improve in practice every day in the meantime.
“The kids have been awesome dealing with all the uncertainties around everything,” said Cioffi. “They are just happy to be on the ice and playing the sport they love. We are fortunate to have enough players on the team to develop some competitive situations as well as continue to work on individual skills.”