Darien girls ice hockey ready for ‘16-17 campaign
Darien girls hockey coach Jamie Tropsa has a predicament heading into the 2016-17 season that would leave even the most even-keeled coach scratching his head.
How does one replace maybe the best graduating class of stars in the history of the girls hockey program?
Georgia Cassidy, who became one of five Connecticut players ever to break the 200-point plateau (211 career points; 143 goals, 68 assists), is gone. Schuyler van den Broek (33 points in ‘15/16; 14g/19a) and Chandler Kirby (led defensemen with 23 points; 8g/15a) are gone; and a team that never lost an FCIAC game in the last four years, en route to four conference titles and a ‘15/16 state title, returns just four seniors.
“You really don’t replace them,” Tropsa said. “That was a very, very special class, a strong class. So you try to keep developing kids and I think, along with our youth hockey locally, we’ve done a pretty good job.
“We’re going to be very deep, maybe deeper than we ever have been, but we won’t have that leadership and skill level we had last year.”
Because of the culture Tropsa has established in the town, what could have been a rebuilding year looks to be one of retooling—and waiting for the puzzle-pieces to fit together.
“We’ve really, with the help of all those seniors last year, made it very attractive for these girls to want to play ice hockey,” Tropsa said. “They look up to those girls and they’re very interested in playing ice hockey at the high school level, which has developed onto something very unique. It’s like what Darien has done in lacrosse and field hockey on the girls side.”
Because of numbers-issues many schools in the state rely on co-op teams, joining forces with other schools to put a competitive team on the ice every day.
Darien has no such issue, and, in fact, seems to be trending in the opposite direction.
“We had 13 freshman try out, which is incredible,” Tropsa said. “And next year we’re going to have another 12 or 13. In the near future it’s going to get harder and harder to play on this team, but hopefully when they are seniors they are Georgia Cassidy’s or Chandler Kirby’s or Schuyler van den Broek’s, and we have them if they stick with it and keep their love for the game; it’s going to be very interesting to see.”
At times the season could get bumpy and Tropsa knows that, but there’s one place he can look to for stability and leadership, and it comes in the form of maybe the most important role on the team—goalie.
Senior captain Emily Gianunzio returns with the pedigree—leading her team to conference and state titles a season ago, as well as the personality—her loud, outspoken, fun-loving demeanor draws younger players to her leadership.
While waiting for the cogs in the Darien machine to mesh, Tropsa can take solace in the fact that he has one of the state’s best between the pipes, able to erase mistakes and greatly diminsh the learning curve.
“We’re going to rely on her heavily, without a doubt,” Tropsa said of Gianunzio. “Not only for her skill and ability in net, but also her leadership. She’s been there, done that and hopefully can lead the way for the younger kids.”
While Darien graduated an almost-unfathomable amount of talent, make no mistake, there’s still plenty of skill to find within the depth of its roster.
Starting on offense with senior-captain Cassidy Schiff (19 points in ‘15/16), who was an integral part of last year’s championship run.
And no, the Blue Wave aren’t recycling old jerseys.
Familiar surnames like Cassidy and van den Broek will again star in Blue and White.
Schuyler van den Broek’s little sister, Shea, will suit up for her sophomore year as the leading returning-scorer after registering 24 points a year ago, while Goergia Cassidy’s sister, Sally, a junior, is coming off a 15-point season.
At the back end, senior-captain Courtney Lowe and junior Kiki Tropsa (Jamie’s daughter) form one of the best blue-line duos in the state in front of Gianunzio.
The season, which starts this week, is barely even in its infancy, and while they may not be the powerhouse they were a year ago, this year’s version of the Blue Wave has Tropsa asking; why not us?
“Obviously the FCIAC comes first and that’s our No. 1 goal right now,” Tropsa said. “And hey, we could be there; we’re not old, we’re not young, so we’ll be relying on juniors and sophomores and the freshmen will be playing with no pressure. So if we continue to get better, very good things can happen with this group of girls.”