The WHSL looks to move on from a 2-18 season last winter.
For the Whitman-Hanson/Silver Lake high school girls’ hockey team, it’s a lot more clear heading into this season than it was going into last winter, when it returned just eight players.
“It was a shock to all of us,” said fourth-year head coach Kevin Marani of the lack of familiar faces to start last season.
With the exception of a select few, Marani had no idea who was going to play, or even who could play and where.
“Last year was a trying year,” he said.
While it was a trying season, it certainly wasn’t a lost one for WHSL, which went 2-18 overall with both wins coming in the final month. The Panthers had 15 new faces, 11 of whom were freshmen.
“The first part of any freshman year, you’re just learning,” Marani said. “You think you know high school hockey and speed and you don’t.”
Nine of those now-sophomores are back, along with a handful of upperclassmen, while a former league all-star has returned and a few incoming freshmen have impressed, all combining to put WHSL in a good spot this winter.
“The experience that we have with all the sophomores that we have along with the return of [Alyssa Murphy] and there are a couple freshmen are going to be helpful for us,” Marani said. “The newness of playing in high school hockey is gone and now it’s experience. Confidence breeds success.”
Yes, junior Alyssa Murphy (Kingston), who played for the junior hockey team Walpole Express last season, has returned.
“She’s just a great kid, a great hockey player,” Marani said.
Murphy scored 20 goals and dished out 23 assists as a freshman. WHSL scored just 31 goals last winter.
“When we let up a goal, we’d be defeated,” Marani said. “We could not score. She’s also a lot faster from when she was a freshman, she’s probably one of our faster, if not fastest girls.”
Murphy will captain the team with senior Maddie Soule (Hanson).
“She’s a great leader and great kid,” Marani said of Soule “I believe the two captains that we choose, we could not be happier.”
Emily McDonald (Whitman), who scored three goals last season, will be looked upon to produce even more in her sophomore campaign.
“This year, I can see the strength,” Marani said. “She’s stronger. Her shot’s better. Her passes are more crisp, pure strength.”
Sophomores Caity Hazley (one goal, nine assists last season) and Ellie Grady (one goal, two assists), both of Kingston, also provide some goal-scoring potential on the wing.
Senior Zoe Lydon (Hanson) and sophomores Neve Corkery (Kingston) and Caleigh Thompkins (Kingston) will help sure up the blue line with the transfer of junior Natalie Nemes (Kingston), the team’s lone league all-star last season, to Tabor Academy.
After entering last season with no goalies, the Panthers embark on their upcoming campaign with two sophomores Kat Gilbert (Halifax), who is the starter, and Rylee Moran (Whitman). Both have been working with a goalie coach brought on about midway through last season.
“Kat had started and just didn’t know the nuances of being a goalie and this summer, both her and Rylie have gone to multiple, multiple goalie clinics and it’s just about knowing how to play the position,” Marani said.
Marani said he’s put a heavy emphasis on improvement in two key areas thus far that go hand in hand with success in the win column.
“It comes straight down to passing and shooting, and that’s something these girls have been working on in every practice, along with [then] going home and shooting against a garage door or a wall and passing it against a wall,” he said “They see the teams we play and how good of a passing team they are. If we can improve our passing and our shooing, hitting the open net, we’ll score a lot of goals.”
Marani said he’s excited to see what his sophomore-driven team does in the future.
“Going through tough times makes you closer,” he said. “You can either get closer or start fighting with each other. They want to take a team that was 2-18 and make the state tournament and maybe one day win a league championship. There’s still three years to go. They’re only going to mature more and they do have the talent.”
WHSL will open the season Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. against Dennis-Yarmouth at Troy Kent Arena.
“I just want to see competitiveness,” Marani said. “I want them to be a competitive team. Go out and play like you can win and let the chips fall in the net. If we don’t win, that’s fine. I want to see we’re competing and improving every game and if we can do that by the end of the year, we’re going to be fine.”