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Unlike most athletes in Vermont, the Rutland boys and girls hockey teams will have plenty of practice time under their belt when the first puck drops this week for the Raiders.
Rutland, and hockey teams across the state, have been practicing since before Thanksgiving, and Wednesday, the Raiders’ wait will finally be over.
Both teams have exciting talent coming back and the hope is that they can take a step forward from their first-round exits a season ago.
The Rutland girls hockey team has gotten used to playoff hockey.
Heading into last winter, the Raiders had a Division I state championship and a pair of state semifinals under their belt across the previous three seasons.
Last year ended with a quarterfinal loss to Burlington/Colchester as Rutland finished the season 11-9-1.
After losing just four seniors to graduation, the Raiders are confident in their ability to climb the ladder of success again.
Rutland is itching to get the season underway.
“The kids are looking forward to it because it has been a long practice season,” said Raiders coach Dirk Steupert. “I’m very pleased with the group of girls. The main thing is to stay healthy and keep practicing and working hard.”
A big story line of last winter was the addition of a large freshmen class and the crucial ice time they received to get their feet wet at the varsity level.
That group is a year older and year more experienced as they enter the 2019-20 season.
“(Last year) was a learning piece for them, competing against Essex seniors and BFA seniors, among others,” Steupert said. “It was a good way to throw them into the fire and learn the hard way. They got better and stronger.”
The Raiders’ two top goal scorers from last season, junior Alexis Patterson and sophomore Isabel Crossman, return this winter.
They’ll be joined on the attack by Isabel Alexander, Taylor Surething, Sydney Wood, Tessa McLaughlin, Molly Abatiell and Sierra McDermott.
Elise Lidstone, Sera Wideawake and Alyssa Kennedy can flip between forward and defense as well.
A new, yet familiar, addition to the forward group is senior Caitie Pelkey, who was away from the team for a few seasons. Pelkey played for the Raiders during her freshman year.
“The injury bug hit (Caitie) for a couple of years, so she stayed away,” Steupert said. “She’s healthy this year and excited to be back. She’s working on getting her skating underneath her and she’ll make a big difference.”
Rutland figures to be strong in goal with a stable of goaltenders with experience. Senior Emily Hathaway and sophomore Kristen Pariseau lead the group and freshman Lindsey Taylor figures to compete for playing time.
“(Emily) has been here for three years and Kristen has done well,” Steupert said. “Lindsey has worked hard and is a quality goaltender too. As long as they stay healthy, we stand a chance.”
Defensively, the Raiders lost Maggie Schillinger and Ella Beraldi to graduation.
Beraldi missed part of last season with an injury, causing Rutland to go with a three-girl defensive rotation.
This gave younger defenders like Ella Lowkes and Abigail Stoodley plenty of ice time to develop.
Lowkes and Stoodley will lead the defensive group this winter and could be joined by Lidstone, Wideawake and Kennedy.
Katherine Pate returns as Steupert’s assistant coach, while AnneMarie Provencal will serve as a volunteer assistant coach.
Rutland starts its season on the road against Hartford on Wednesday. The Raiders have their home opener on December 18 against Brattleboro.
First-year head coach Mike Anderson is clear on how his Rutland boys hockey team will win — hard work.
The Raiders aren’t going to overwhelm opponents solely with their skill or size. They’ll have to outwork whoever is lining up across the blue line with them to come away on the winning side.
“We’re not going to win on skill alone,” Anderson said. “We have to be the hardest working team every night if we want to be successful.”
Rutland has a mix of experienced players and youth that will suit up this winter.
“About half the team is guys that haven’t played high school hockey before and about half the team is guys that have been around,” Anderson said. “There’s a little bit of a learning curve, but the older guys have done a great job of taking the younger guys under their wing.”
Seniors Ethan Coarse and Eric Brewer, juniors Ryan Melen and Dillon Moore and sophomore Micaiah Boyle will be counted on to create some scoring punch for the Raiders.
“They all played quite a bit last year and I expect them to do a lot this year,” Anderson said.
Sophomore Oliver Hamilton, who is new to high school hockey, has been an early standout and should be a critical piece in the offensive attack.
Rutland returns a defense with plenty of experience. Seniors Eren Cetin and Mattingly Colvin and juniors Owen Simpson and Brad Maniery will play a crucial role on that end.
Freshman Michael Schillinger has impressed and will find time in the defensive rotation as well. Schillinger could also see time at forward.
Schillinger is one of seven freshman on the Rutland roster this winter.
The Raiders have a pair of goaltenders with varsity experience in juniors Augie Louras and McGuire Baker. They’re joined in the goalie rotation by sophomore Camron Biathrow.
All three were solid in the net in Rutland’s scrimmage against Woodstock last Wednesday and Anderson likes the competitiveness of the position group.
“They’re pushing each other and creating good competition, making each other better,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who has was an assistant on the Raiders’ staff for a handful of years under former coach Chris Adams, is joined on the coaching staff by Tim McAuliffe, Tyler White and Glen Mandel. Mandel graduated from Rutland in 2018 and has been working with the trio of goalies.
“Tim McAuliffe has great hockey knowledge and is a good guy to have around,” Anderson said. “Tyler White has been the athletic trainer in the past, but he’s getting a little more involved in coaching. Glen has helped the goalies, which is a huge hand for us. We have a real good staff, so I’m hoping for a good year.”
Rutland opens regular season play with a pair of rivalry games, playing Brattleboro on Wednesday at home and Burr and Burton on Saturday night.
With start of the season on the horizon, the Raiders are ready for the challenge ahead of them.
“We had a good first couple weeks,” Anderson said. “We’ve gotten on the ice and guys are moving. Things are coming along.”