By Tris Wykes

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – If you enjoy small talk and circling a difficult subject, Kylie Young is not your cup of tea. The first-year Hartford High girls ice hockey coach tends to tell it like it is, and for the Hurricanes, “it” hasn’t been much fun in recent years. 

“We have nowhere to go but up,” said Young, hired last summer to take over a program that’s won roughly two of every 10 games during the past decade. 

First-year Hartford High girls ice hockey coach Kylie Young speaks with Brianna Roberts during a Jan. 15 practice.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that, because of Covid-19 delays, the team will have had nearly a month of preseason practice before it hopes to begin competition next week. More time to work on zipping accurate passes, using all four skate edges and extending endurance past the anticipated breaking point. 

“The pace is always pushed, so there’s not a lot of standing still on the ice,” said goaltender Zoey Pfeiffer, one of the team’s three seniors. “We have a lot of new players and our game has definitely been elevated a little bit.”

Hartford is 44-135-10 during the past nine years, going 4-56-3 the last three campaigns under Bill Goldsworthy, whose team snapped a 27-game winless streak late last winter. Hurricanes athletic director Jeff Moreno both hired and fired his longtime friend. His next move was to pitch Young on taking over.

“I said ‘No way, I don’t have time for that’,” recalled Young, a former Hurricanes star who played collegiately at Sacred Heart University and Castleton State. “But after I said no enough times, it got to a point where I felt I had to say yes. My heart was telling me this was what I needed to do.”

Emma Bazin, center, participates in a skating drill.

Hartford’s roster features four players each from Thetford Academy (Addyson Holzer, Liv Hastings, Madelyn Durkee, Ada Acker) and Bellows Falls High and Middle Schools (Grace and Emma Bazin, Izzy Stack, Julie McDermid). Nine skaters are from Hartford’s attendance area. 

The Hurricanes lost four seniors to graduation and nine other players from last year’s team elected not to return. Six players are new to the program, including former Vermont Academy player Grace Bazin and her eighth-grade forward sister, Emma. 

Expected to play club or prep school hockey before the Corona virus arrived is sophomore Sophie Trembley. The speedster has been moved to defense by Young, who’s stacked her blue line in seeking to have at least two of her most-talented skaters on the ice at all times. 

“Sophie’s very fast but has a lot to work on with stick skills,” Young said of Trombley, who played boys hockey until last season, when she skated with a Hanover Youth Hockey U16 squad. “She’s better when play’s in front of her and she can get the puck and take off with it in a heartbeat.”

Joining Trombley on defense are juniors Grace Bezin and Nora Knudsen and sophomore McDermid. Returning forwards include seniors Stack and Rylee Potwin, junior Brianna Roberts and sophomores Hastings, Nedra Dwinell and Holzer. Eighth-graders Maddison Barwood, Emma Bazin and Cordelia Durand and sophomore Ada Acker round out the forwards. Sophomore Sydney Stillman is the backup goaltender.

“I definitely feel like this is a stronger group that we’ve had in past years,” said Young, who’s long been a coach in the Upper Valley Storm youth program and closely followed the Hurricanes. “There’s a lot more excitement about the team.”

That link to the lower ranks is one reason Moreno hired Young, who has three children playing for the Storm. The Hurricanes are projected to have few incoming players the next two years, so they need to nourish their member-to-member school connections and encourage more local girls to play and stick with hockey.

First-year Hartford High girls ice hockey coach Kylie Young explains a drill.

Young said she’s found a solid number of girls start youth hockey, but drop out by age 12. She and Moreno are hoping to make the dream of skating for the high school team more common and enduring.

“We want to rebrand our program as the landing pad for youth players that it once was,” Moreno said of a program that reached the first Vermont Principals Association-sanctioned state finals in 2002 and suffered only one losing season during the six years after. “People have forgotten that we were once the Hanover of girls hockey and the place to play.

“Kylie’s playing the long game and that’s not in her nature. But she understands that for this to work, she’s got to be patient and push the right buttons with the feeder program.”

Young, who works as operations manger for a local physical therapy business, was the model of poise and encouragement during a practice last week, not visibly reacting to individual mistakes but also pulling players aside for occasional counsel and group instruction. The vibe was one of slow, steady progress, which will be tested once games begin. Memories of last season’s 1-19 record are still fresh, but Young’s doing her best to sweep them aside.

“We want to be sure we have players who want to win,” she said, noting that being late for practices or missing them entirely, while sometimes overlooked in the past, is now unacceptable. “It’s not okay to lose every game and if we are, we’re going to do something different. 

“I think lot of girls were nervous coming into the season with a new coach and some of them have responded with bigger hearts and amazing effort and a stronger passion to do well.”

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Hartford High girls hockey assistant Greg Balsam confers with Grace Bazin.