Girls hockey preview: After off year, Ridgefield looks improved

Most seasons, the Ridgefield High girls hockey team is among the best in both the conference and the state.

Last winter? Not so much.

The Tigers slumped to a 5-15 record, failing to qualify for any postseason tournaments.

“It wasn’t the type of season we are used to having,” said Lauren Lubrano, the head coach of the Ridgefield-Danbury combined squad. “We’re hoping to get back to where we have been in the past.”

Early signs are encouraging. The Tigers return most of their key players from last season and add several immediate-impact freshmen.

“I can already tell that we are much improved,” said Lubrano. “The practices are a lot different. Last year we had such a big gap between our top players and everyone else that practices were not very competitive.”

Although Ridgefield had just four seniors on last year’s roster, two of them will be particularly missed: Defenseman Erin Schneider and goalie Michaela Gleeson. A pair of four-year starters, Schneider and Gleeson both made the All-FCIAC second team last season.

“Those are two holes to fill,” said Lubrano. “But I think some of the younger players are ready to step in.”

Three of Ridgefield’s freshmen — center Emily Stefanelli and wingers Julia Bongo and Kate Zangre — will likely form the team’s top line. “They all have experience and are very skilled,” said Lubrano. “We’re hoping they provide some of the offensive production that we lacked last year.”

Senior Kate McNicholas is the front-runner to center the Tigers’ second line, with classmate Olivia Alessandro and sophomore Zella Ertl on the wings.

Also expected to contribute as forwards are seniors Sarah Gillis, Sandy Turner and Gretchen Peters; junior Diana Gozman; sophomores Aubrey White and Cait Irving; and freshman Rebecca Gartner.

“We have some good depth,” said Lubrano. “Our third and fourth lines are probably better than our first and second lines last season.”

Three more newcomers — freshmen Bridget Galloway, Julia Zangre and Allyson Caiola — will join senior Lauren Whelan and sophomore Chiara Signorelli as Ridgefield’s top-five defensemen. Signorelli was impressive as a freshman last winter, receiving All-FCIAC honorable mention along with classmate Ertl.

“The defense lost Erin Schneider, but this group can really skate and move the puck,” said Lubrano. “I feel confident about how they will play, even though it’s a young group.”

Ridgefield’s revamp continues in goal, as sophomore Kendal Mountain (a converted forward) takes over for Gleeson. “Kendal tried it out and found she liked playing goalie,” said Lubrano. “She really worked at it over the season, and I’m not nearly as nervous as I was last year when I was wondering how we would replace Michaela (Gleeson).”

The Tigers will even have a second netminder this winter, as sophomore Reagan Bonadies enters the program after moving to Ridgefield.

“I like what I have seen so far,” said Lubrano. “This team looks to be a lot better. We’re young, but I think we are going to surprise people.”

Notes: After having its scheduled opener postponed Saturday, Ridgefield starts the 2017-18 season tomorrow (Dec. 12) at 6:25 p.m. against Mercy/Northwest Catholic at the Champions Skating Center in Cromwell.

Ridgefield's first home game is Friday at 3:45 p.m. against Stamford/Westhill/Staples at the Winter Garden.

Alessandro, Turner and Stefanelli are the three players from Danbury.

Senior Nicole Potel is serving as the team’s manager after being ruled out for the season due to injury.

Former RHS standout Laura Mulligan has joined the coaching staff as an assistant.