The Rutland High School boys and girls hockey teams are, in essence, one year apart.
The Raiders boys gave their young skaters a big dose of playing time last year and this season coach Chris Adams is hoping to see it pay off.
Raiders girls coach Dirk Steupert has a big freshman class skating onto the home ice at Spartan Arena this winter. Seven ninth-grade skaters will be joining only seven skaters who return from a program that won a Division I state title and has been to two semis in the past three years. But that doesn’t mean Rutland should be counted out in 2018-19.
Rutland has exited the Division I tournament in the first round the past five years but numbers and experience suggest the Raiders are ready to drive a Zamboni over that trend.
Rutland has 25 players out and other than goalie Glen Mandel, the entire squad returns, along with seven players who were not on the roster last season.
“I think we’ve got a great opportunity to have a good year,” says Adams as he begins his first full year as head coach. “Our key is playing by committee and our strength is depth through the lineup.”
That lineup includes only six seniors.
“Kids who were thrust into tough roles now know how to handle things. I have high hopes for the year as long as we can stay healthy and keep our composure,” Adams said.
Shailer Evans played behind Mandel and now it’s his turn in net as a senior. Adams said sophomore Augie Louras “has a bright future” and classmate McGuire Baker, a newcomer, is helping create a spirited competition between the pipes.
Adams and his staff were still creating line combinations late in the second week of practices but the Raiders feel certain they can count on scoring punch from Noah Crossman, Ben Simpson, Eric Brewer, Ryan Melen, Ethan Coarse and Dillon Moore.
Matt Creed, Joel Muscatello and Toby Jakubowski are also prepping for minutes up front.
“All these guys are having a great tryout,” Adams said.
The Raiders’ best depth might be at defense, where a group of eight is led by Bradley Maniery, Eren Cetin, Joe Gides and Drew Patterson.
“I look down the bench in the past and see my assistant Mike Anderson with four guys he was moving in and out and now we have a solid eight,” Adams said.
“Both up front and on the defense you can tell the kids’ game has improved.”
Friday’s scrimmage against CVU (under regular game conditions) was the first for Rutland, which will have its opener at Woodstock on Wednesday and will play its home opener on Dec. 22 against Stowe.
With stars like Emma Mazzariello, player of the year Meghan Hamilton and five others graduated, is it woe to the Raiders?
Steupert doesn’t think so.
“I was very fortunate this year,” he said. “I’ve got eight freshmen and they are all hockey players. I have never had (a freshman class) that big. I was anticipating five.”
Steupert’s newbies have all been on skates since the beginning of grade school, including goalie Kristen Pariseau.
“I am very pleased with the way they’ve been working in practice and have been accepted by the upperclassmen,” he said. “I think they are good players and they work hard ... I am asking an awful lot of them because they are going to play. They’ll be skating against seniors from St. Albans to Burr and Burton and the game is a lot faster.”
The Raiders have good leaders to guide the freshmen by word and example, like Maggie Schillinger, Ella Beraldi, Brianna Beauchamp and starting goalie Amy Howard.
Goalie Emily Hathaway, defenseman Ella Lowkes and forwards Sera Wideawake, Taylor Surething and Alexis Patterson are the other returning players.
The Raiders’ new forwards are Elise Lindstone, Molly Abatiell, Tessa McLaughlin, Sydney Wood and Isabel Crossman while Steupert plans to use Abigail Stoodley and Alyssa Kennedy at forward and defense.
“I have asked some of them to do two things because my job is to put the best, hard-working players out there,” Steupert said.
The Raiders have their first scrimmage on Monday (Dec. 10) at Stowe and will open the season at home next Saturday at 4 p.m. against Hartford.
Katherine Pate, a four-year player at the University of Vermont, is Steupert’s new assistant and he feels blessed to have her on board.
“She’s done an outstanding job,” Steupert said.
Coincidentally, she is charged with helping Steupert get the Raiders back to the finals at her old ice sheet at Gutterson Fieldhouse. But that’s not really on the radar just yet.
“My thing is because of the big freshmen class is they have to be comfortable with the team,” Steupert said. “We’re taking one game at a time. I just want them to get better from day one to the end.”