Schools Sports

WarChiefs Motivated by a ‘Sense of Urgency’ Throughout Successful Season

The Hall-Conard girls ice hockey team. Photo credit: Marlon Pitter

The Hall-Conard girls ice hockey team has asserted itself as one of the state’s top contenders through an impressive regular season.

By Marlon Pitter

In almost every sport, West Hartford’s Hall and Conard high schools compete as spirited rivals. Basketball, football, baseball, soccer, and other contests between the schools bring the most out of the teams, student sections, parents, and alumni. The crosstown rivalry games are often the most emotional, regardless of the records or prior results.

Despite a passionate divide that ordinarily exists between the two schools, the Hall-Conard girls ice hockey team has given all of West Hartford something to cheer about this season.

As the only co-op team combining West Hartford’s two public high schools, the WarChiefs assemble players from Hall and Conard, forming one of Connecticut’s top girls ice hockey teams. Entering this weekend as the No. 2 team in the state with a 16-2 record, Hall-Conard looks to turn the success it has enjoyed into a deep postseason run.

“I think it’s great for the town to show that [from] two rival high schools, the kids can come together,” said Hall-Conard head coach Brett Soucy. “[They’re] not only together but they’re incredibly supportive of each other.”

Soucy added: “The coaches, we’re all so proud of the team, not just for the win-loss record but just the way they go about their business, the way they work so hard, the way they support each other. It’s just a great group to be around.”

The wins have been numerous, but they haven’t come easy, Soucy said. The WarChiefs have been either No. 1 or No. 2 in the unofficial rankings for most of the season, bringing out the best effort from opponents trying to knock them off. (The CIAC does not sponsor girls ice hockey but provides the rankings page as a service to its member schools.)

“High school girls hockey continues to grow and get better and better,” he said. “Our team, we’ve had a lot of wins, but they’ve had to work for every single one of them. … We’re proud of their effort, the [resolve] they have to win those games.”

After losing to now-No. 1 New Canaan in their second game of the season, the WarChiefs rattled off 10 consecutive wins before a 3-0 setback to No. 6 Greenwich on Jan. 22. The team’s ability to bounce back after its defeats has been paramount to its success.

“If we lose a game, we’re back on the ice the next day working as hard as we possibly can just to get the next one,” said senior forward Maya Borden. “We don’t really give up, so that’s just a big part of how we play.”

With two regular season games remaining, the WarChiefs will travel to No. 4 West Haven-SHA Friday night before returning home for their Senior Day matchup against Wilton-Norwalk-McMahon Saturday afternoon.

Riding a five-game win streak, Hall-Conard looks to add to its momentum before the Southern Connecticut Conference North Division and Connecticut High School Girls Hockey Association tournaments. The WarChiefs will host an SCC North semifinal game Tuesday night.

For the 11 seniors on the team, including Borden and goalie Nora McGowan, the WarChiefs have played with a “sense of urgency” as they hope to end their careers on a high note.

“We’ve been working over the four years,” said McGowan, one of the team’s four co-captains. “It’s nice to finally get rewarded with winning a lot of games.”

As the end of the season draws near, McGowan looks back on her career with gratitude no matter how it ends.

“It’s all been really fun,” she said. “I’m thankful that I had all four years to play and I’m sad that it’s coming to an end soon. I haven’t really wrapped my head around it yet, but it’s gonna be sad when the season ends.”

Among the growing landscape of girls hockey in Connecticut, the War-Chiefs are one of few teams in the state comprised of two schools or fewer. The Hall-Conard co-op not only simplifies logistics with its schools and home venue in West Hartford but it also brings the town together in support of the team.

Borden and McGowan, who attend Hall and Conard respectively, said the team has a strong following from the town and their schools. For Soucy, support from players’ parents and Veterans Memorial Rink have been essential to the growth and success of the program as well.

Although some teammates don’t attend school with others – and even compete against each other in different sports – friendships throughout the WarChiefs roster are rock-solid.

“We’ve all been playing together since we were 10 because you start pretty young with hockey,” Borden said. “But it’s interesting because during the lacrosse season … we’re complete rivals, but during the hockey season, we’re so close. You always know you have a friend no matter what.”

Only seven years removed from a state championship, Hall-Conard is in a good position to add another banner to Veterans Memorial Rink. Soucy said he sees similarities between the 2011-12 WarChiefs team he watched his daughter play on and this year’s squad that make them poised for a title run in March.

“Any team, to have success, you need good defensemen, good goaltending and forwards that can put the puck in the net, and those three similarities, those three things both teams have in common,” he said.

Despite wins against most teams in the state, Soucy said the playoff picture is still wide open.

“The top eight teams are legit contenders to win the state tournament,” said Soucy.

The goal to close out the regular season – as it has been all year for Hall-Conard – is to continue improving. From there, the WarChiefs will have to see what happens.

“Even at this deep into the season, we’re still trying to get better … individually and as a team,” said Soucy. “If we’re all playing our best hockey at the end here, hopefully, things will go well.”

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Marlon Pitter

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