The Dover-Sherborn/Hopkinton girls ice hockey co-op will get a significant boost from several Hopkinton High School athletes this winter, especially on the defensive end of the ice.
The program, which draws athletes from six schools, has six HHS players on the roster this winter, including senior captain Kristin McCluskey in goal.
“She was a Tri-Valley League all-star last year, so we are looking for big things from her in net this year,” first-year coach Scott Hayes said.
McCluskey figures to have plenty of experienced help in front of her. Fellow Hillers Kaley Merkle and Hailey Cox both return to play on the blue line. Hayes described Merkle as the “anchor” of the team’s defense, with Cox providing another strong presence in front of the net.
“We are excited to see how they perform this year,” Hayes said.
Hopkinton players also will be featured on the forward lines. Junior Morgan Fraser and sophomores Bianca Musgrave and Gillian Wenrich are expected to contribute.
Of course, simply getting on the ice is a victory for the squad and the other teams in the TVL as many school districts and other sports within the league saw their seasons delayed or canceled amid rising levels of COVID-19 in the state. The girls had the chance to practice for more than three weeks ahead of the start of a 10-game schedule which kicks off Jan. 6.
“I am impressed with the group of girls overall,” Hayes said. “They come ready to work hard, they all get along well together and they are a close knit group. They have been challenged by the coaching staff and they have done a great job responding to it.”
Added the coach: “As a team we realize how fortunate we are to have a season. There are plenty of schools who had their seasons canceled and those students are losing a season, so we feel fortunate that the TVL put together a season for us and we are excited.”
Hayes also liked the continuation of a schedule quirk that was implanted during the fall: having teams play each other back-to-back to allow for easier contact tracing should it be needed. The team opened up with Westwood last Wednesday and Saturday and is scheduled to play Medway this week.
“As a hockey enthusiast, playing a home-and-home is something that excites me and we are trying to get the kids excited about that,” he said.
Hayes joins the program after coaching at various levels over the past several seasons. His experience ranges from time as an assistant coach at Becker College to working with his four boys, ages 3 to 8, as they begin their own hockey careers. Hayes played high school hockey at Noble & Greenough School in Dedham before playing for Tufts.
Even with no tournament to play for in the pandemic-affected season, Hayes said he is not lowering his expectations.
“Our biggest goal is to improve,” he said. “The coaches have challenged them since the beginning of the season with a pretty intense skating program and the girls have responded great to that. We want to improve, day to day, week to week, and season to season. If at the end of the year we match up our record to the prior year and see improvement, then we are heading in the right direction.”