WHALE-FEST REPORT

bruce mug shot 1By Bruce Berlet

EAST HARTFORD, CT – Like any sports program, the Trinity College women’s hockey team has written a history in its 13 years, though most of it wasn’t much to pass along for the first decade.

Then four years ago, 11 freshmen from around the country arrived on the Hartford campus hoping to rewrite that mostly forgettable history.

Last season, the six players still in the program helped the Bantams qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time as an at-large team.

Saturday, in a 3-0 victory over Bowdoin on Senior Day in Hartford, senior forward Kim Weiss became the first Trinity player to reach 100 points.

Tuesday night, the eighth-ranked Bantams continued rolling in their best season ever as senior forward Sarah Kohn had two goals and an assist and Weise and junior defenseman Payson Sword each added a goal and an assist in a 5-1 victory over Wesleyan in the opener of a Harvest-Properties.com Whalers Hockey Fest 2011 doubleheader at Rentschler Field.

“Just walking down that tarmac and seeing the stadium …,” Weiss said, pausing. “Granted there wasn’t HBO (four-part ‘24/7’ series) and seeing (Washington Capitals’ superstar) Alex Ovechkin and a lot of screaming fans, but you don’t even see that. You just see the ice and skating out and feeling the cold air.

“At the end of the game, all the snow from the ice was blowing around, so it felt like it was snowing, even though it wasn’t. It was unbelievable, and I can’t really put it into words.”

The Trinity men, steeped in tradition for four decades since the program was started by the retired John Dunham, made it a Bantams sweep in the nightcap as junior Sean McCarthy and senior Matthew Quigley scored early in the third period for a 3-1 victory over Wesleyan.

Senior defenseman/tri-captain Alexa Guglielmi of Rocky Hill grew up a Hartford Whalers fan playing with the boys and got especially close to the game when her uncle, defenseman Dave Babych, was traded to her favorite team. Unfortunately for Alexa, she will miss Babych playing for the Whalers legends team against the Boston Bruins legends team Saturday at 4 p.m. because she and her teammates will be at Connecticut College in New London.

“It was amazing,” Guglielmi said of Tuesday’s venture outdoors. “I don’t think I could take a smile off my face from the moment we stepped on the ice. We brought cameras and were snapping pictures the entire time, so it was actually incredible.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like this. I’ve seen normal outdoor rinks, but to have this in a stadium felt really nice. The seniors have had a really great 3½ years, and I think this is kind of the cherry on the top.”

Guglielmi then caught herself.

“Well, a championship would be nice,” she said with a wide smile, “but this is definitely a bonus also.”

The victory improved the Bantams’ record to 15-3-4 (8-3-3 in NESCAC) this season and 67-23-11 since Weiss, Kohn, Guglielmi & Co. found their way to Broad Street in Hartford. And each year, they’ve had to face NESCAC powerhouses Middlebury and Amherst, who will start shooting for a third consecutive national championship on Feb. 26.

Trinity coach Andrew McPhee didn’t mince words when discussing his six seniors, who have given the Bantams their best shot at winning their first NCAA tournament game.

“They’ve been instrumental in developing our program,” said McPhee, who is in his ninth season at Trinity. “Before they got to campus, we’d never had a winning record, then last season we made to the NCAAs for the first time and this season we’ve been ranked all season and have only three losses to date. The seniors really elevated the program, and everyone else has just followed suit.”

McPhee called the program’s first outdoor tango “a tribute, a reward, everything.”

“The whole (senior) class has meant a lot to me,” McPhee said. “We made a special trip to Minnesota because two of our kids (senior defenseman Laura Komarek and freshman forward Emily Kleidon) are from Minnesota, and we played the top two teams out there (Gustavus Adolphus and St. Thomas). This is just capping off an awesome four-year experience.”

McPhee rewarded his Connecticut connection by starting Guglielmi, freshman goalie Alexa Pujol (New Canaan) and junior Celia Colman-McGaw (Manchester), who scored nine seconds into the game to give the Bantams a lead that they never came close to relinquishing while amassing a 39-6 shot advantage.

“To see Celia score that quick gave me a tingle,” McPhee said.

Goalie Ashleigh Corvi of Barrington, R.I., also received kudos for making 34 saves that kept the score respectable for the Cardinals (2-18-1, 0-14-0), who are 0-12-1 since Jan. 4 and have only one more goal this season (21) and Weiss. But 34 saves were a rocking-chair day for Corvi compared to her school-record 70 saves in a 5-0 loss to Amherst in the second game of the season on Nov. 20.

“She played really good,” Guglielmi rightfully acknowledged.

Komarek, a senior defenseman from Plymouth, Minn., felt right at home outdoors, though she admitted, “It kind of got cold when the water bottles froze.”

“I used to play until 3 in the morning, just shimmy hockey with a T-shirt on,” Komarek said. “So this felt like home.”

Komarek is also enjoying a most memorable final go-around at Trinity.

“Saturday was Senior Day, so we’re still kind of in the honeymoon period of our senior season,” she said. “This is awesome and obviously a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so we were just happy to be a part of it.”

Komarek said she knew the program had something special when the seniors first arrived on campus.

“We had huge senior leadership, and our team is always about leaving the program better than we found it,” she said. “It’s an amazing group, and all the seniors are so talented. We absolutely love each other, so it’s been awesome.

“It’s been kind of an up-and-down season; we’ve lost to some teams that we shouldn’t have lost to. But I think we’re happy with the way we’re playing now, and we head into the playoffs raring to go and ready to get another whack at Middlebury and Amherst.”

Weiss is the antithesis of Komarek as far as outdoor experience. Tuesday’s game was only her fourth outside, having played entirely indoors while growing up in Potomac, Md.

“Laura played pond hockey until 3 in the morning, and I did no such thing,” Weiss said with a smile.

But that didn’t prevent Weiss from reaching triple digits in points with 60 goals and 44 assists in 97 games. She has 20 goals and seven assists this season, followed in scoring by Gugliemi (6, 9), Komarek (4, 9) and Colman-McGaw (3, 8). The other seniors on the team are forward Jill Roloff and defenseman Michelle Benjamin.

Weiss said she made it from Maryland to Hartford thanks largely to McPhee.

“I was looking at the NESCAC,” Weiss said, “and after talking to him and knowing what he wanted to do with the program and seeing the plans for the new rink (Koeppel Community Sports Center), I knew it was just something I wanted to be a part of.”

And the six remaining seniors have another special bond: They’ve been on the power play since Day One.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Weiss said. “After that, we kind of knew we had a big challenge to start something new here. It was definitely nerve-wracking, but it was also fun, so I just jumped in. Sports are about challenges and overcoming them.”

The Senior Six was part of the first Trinity team to be .500 and hit double digits in wins when they went 18-5-3 as freshman, losing 2-1 to Amherst in the NESCAC semifinals. A so-so sophomore season ended at 13-10-2, but the team rebounded to 21-5-2 as juniors and earned the first NCAA berth before losing 2-1 to Elmira in the first round.

The Bantams conclude the regular season at Hamilton and Connecticut College on Friday and Saturday, and the playoffs begin Feb. 26 at four sites.

“I was real close with the senior class last year, and they’re so jealous of this experience,” said Weiss, whose father owns a rink in Maryland. “Hockey has always been a part of my life since I was four years old, so I can’t imagine not having hockey in my life. I don’t want to. I’ve worked at a rink through college, so I’ve always got that to go back to.”

Guglielmi harkened back to the early days of the Elite 11 that’s down to the Super Six.

“We have a great group of girls,” she said. “No one was an all-star. We all kind of built the program together and worked with each other. It definitely shows that it’s not all just about talent, that it’s personality, too, and I think our coach has done an amazing job of recruiting. The past three years that I’ve been here, every class that has come in has helped tremendously, and we’re continuing building.

“It’s nowhere near Division I where it’s your life and your job. You’ve really got to love the game to do it. It’s a big-time commitment, but we definitely love it, and I’m excited for the next part of the season. We’ve had our ups and downs. We had a big class of freshmen come in (eight), and it’s definitely hard adjusting as a senior because last year we were so close. We’ve lost only three games, but we’ve been up and down play-wise, so we need to be more consistent. When we are, I think we’re unstoppable.”

The Trinity men never trailed in improving to 9-7-1 in the NESCAC and 11-8-3 overall and clinching a playoff spot.

Egor Petrov gave the Bantams a 1-0 lead that was equalized by Wesleyan’s Geoff Mucha before the first period ended.

After a scoreless second period, McCarthy made a brilliant inside-out move on Wesleyan defenseman Chris MacDonald and beat Matt Hadge (15 saves) between the legs at 1:31 of the third period. Quigley added the insurance goal when he converted Adam Houli’s rebound at 6:54.

Wesley Vesprini had 21 saves for the Bantams, who dropped the Cardinals to 8-10-3, 7-9-1.

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