A bridge crossed for MMU girls hockey

A bridge crossed for MMU girls hockey

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A bridge crossed for MMU girls hockey

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ESSEX

Last year, 11 members of the Mount Mansfield Union High School girls hockey team spent the winter season at Cairns Arena, as part of a co-operative agreement with South Burlington.

This season, the Cougars are back in their old stomping grounds, the Essex Skating Facility, as the program has returned.

“Last year was a bridge year and it was a positive experience,” said MMU coach Paul Wintersteen. “The girls got to work on their skills, they got to be exposed to high level games … but this year it feels good to have an entire team back, it feels good to be back in our own rink, playing our schedule and representing our school.”

Prior to last season, Mount Mansfield saw that, with such low numbers, it would not be able to field a team. But with a large crop of players in the youth ranks, the Cougars knew that the problem was only temporary. So the program teamed up with South Burlington, which was suffering with its own low-number problem, for one season to bridge the gap.

“We had a great time last season,” said MMU captain Riley Carbone. “It was a really successful season.”

As expected, Mount Mansfield’s numbers rose this year with eight freshmen joining the team. With the new additions, the Cougars are not only back, they are looking to make a splash.

“I think this year, with the group of freshmen and the returning players, we could have the most successful season that we have had in a number of years,” Carbone said.

The key to the team is the high number of underclassman. With only two seniors and three juniors, Wintersteen will rely on a talented group of younger players.

“We’re young, we’re awfully, awfully young,” the coach said. “We’ve got to mature every game. The freshman and younger players are going to get better and better every game.”

The seven players returning from the SB-MMU co-op team were exposed to higher level play in Division I and high-intensity practices and Wintersteen is hoping that the experience from last season will lead the Cougars.

“It’s really a blending of the two,” Wintersteen said. “The new infusion of skilled players and the players who were exposed to high level skill last year, the combination of the two is hopefully what culminates in a successful year.”

The coach will lean on Carbone to lead the defense. The senior captain is the only upperclassman on the back end, while one sophomore and two freshman fill out the D ranks.

At forward, Winstersteen will look to senior Tatum Main and junior Molly Burke to set the example for the younger players. With such a young group, the leadership of the older players will be key to the team’s development as the season progresses.

“My expectations for the team is that we continue to get better through the whole year so that we are playing good hockey at the end of the year,” Wintersteen said.

With the return to Division II and a new lease on life for the Cougar program, the players have their eye on a deep playoff run.

“I think we look really good, I think we could make it to the Gut,” Main said. “If we keep working as hard as we have been, I think we are definitely looking at a good seed for playoffs.”

While Mount Mansfield has its sights set high, the players and coach are also happy to be back.

“It is really nice to have our team back and be a Cougar,” Carbone said.

“I feel the focus, the energy, the determination,” Winstersteen said. “There is definitely a lot of excitement. I can feel it in practice and in the locker room.”

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