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New SCC Champs! Hamden girls' ice hockey co-op team cherishes its dream come true

By Rick Menning

WEST HAVEN, CT -- Hamden girls' ice hockey freshman goalie Kyra Sweeney was sitting among the crowd during last year's Southern Connecticut Conference (SCC) championship game at the Edward L. Bennett Rink.

The then eighth grader remembers the look of dejection on the faces of her sister Trinity and the rest of the Dragons' co-op team as it lost a hard-fought double-overtime thriller to West Haven High School/Sacred Heart Academy co-op.

After more than two and a half hours of intense back-and-forth action in the 2023 defensive showdown, the Westie Sharks prevailed 1-0 in the first minute of the second extra period.

Turn the page, however, to Friday, Feb. 23 with she and her Dragons' teammates now the ones taking center ice on the brightest of stages and wearing the 2024 championship medals and holding the banner.

BREATHING FIRE: The Hamden Dragons girls' co-op ice hockey team proudly display their Southern Connecticut Conference championship medals and banner at the Edward L. Bennett Rink in West Haven. (Photo courtesy of Hamden High School).

Little could Kyra have imagined that she would be in that same building at West Haven High School this following winter shining like a beacon of light through a tense third period while facing the same opponent in the latest title encounter.

Coming through with one huge save after another, the younger Sweeney played a key role in preserving the Dragons' slim advantage until Jozie Becker's power-play insurance goal with 42.4 seconds left clinched for the Hamden squad a 3-1 victory and its treasured SCC crown.

Fortress in the clutch

Despite several high-percentage/around the crease shots by the Westie Sharks over the final 15 minutes, Sweeney was up to the challenge and the first to leap for joy when the final buzzer sounded.

"It was definitely scary being only one goal up (before Becker's late goal) ... I knew I had to step up my game in order for us to get the win," said Kyra Sweeney, who gave a special shout-out to her defensive forwards.

"I could not have done it without (them)," she noted. "They played so hard in front of me and were amazing."

A quick-strike offense

Unlike the marathon scoreless battle between these two co-op teams last winter, it took just over three minutes for the first goal to be recorded as Hamden High School junior forward Giada Broccoli raced down the left side and fired a one-timer top shelf for the early 1-0 lead.

Broccoli's unassisted tally came as the Dragons set the initial pace and held the early edge in winning puck possession battles.

The score stayed the same until the Westie Sharks did what has made them such a force in the SCC in recent years: rally back with a bigtime effort.

The visitors on the scoreboard produced the equalizer at the 4:18 mark of the middle frame when senior defender Taylor Alfano scored with a wrister through traffic in front while her team was on the power play.

Multiple surges by both squads created plenty of excitement but no finding of the back of the net as these two amazing rivals once again had the huge crowd on its feet most of the evening.

Highlight-reel showing

The most consequential moment in the game came with less than five minutes remaining in the second period.

Hamden had just gone on a penalty kill and the Westie Sharks were riding some momentum and again in rally rode at that point.

However, one poke check by Broccoli resulted in a dramatic reversal in fortunes.

Stealing the puck at the West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy blue line, Broccoli suddenly had open ice in front of her and she took off straight toward goalie Evelyn Twarowski.

Although the Westie Sharks' netminder made a great initial save on the breakaway, Hamden sophomore forward Lexy Patel was in pursuit behind Broccoli and knocked home the rebound past a sprawling Twarowski for a short-handed goal. It turned out to be the game-winner for the Dragons.

"It was so exciting to score that goal and help our team win the championship," Patel said. "Giada went in deep and when I saw the rebound come out toward me I just took the shot. It was such a great and special feeling."

Hamden head coach Jessica Morgillo wasn't surprised that Patel was in the right place at the right time.

"Lexy has been grinding all year," Morgillo said. "She's always in the right spot and on that play she hustled to the puck and took a great shot."

Throughout the showdown, Kyra Sweeney remained focused and determined and she finished with 29 saves in 30 attempts by the Westie Sharks. At the other end of the ice, Twarowski stopped 25 of 28 Hamden shots.

Sweeney's performance down the stretch and at crunch times earned her the distinction as the recipient of the SCC's Most Outstanding Player plaque.

Hamden Dragons' goalie Kyra Sweeney is presented with her 2024 SCC championship game Most Outstanding Player plague from Commissioner Al Carbone. (Photo courtesy of Hamden High School).

Throughout the game, Westie Sharks players like freshman forward Hailey Azzarone and junior defender Rachel Harrison tested Sweeney with speed and tenacity on good scoring opportunities, but each time Hamden's last line of defense was up to the challenge.

Meanwhile, the Dragons' Jozie Becker (whose riser on the power play in the closing seconds sealed the deal) and senior defender/co-captain Trinity Sweeney (senior forward Sara Norton is the other co-captain) challenged Twarowski with great chances to light the lamp earlier in the final stanza.

2024 warriors stood tall

Kyra's older sister was thrilled that she and her teammates came out on top this time around after the tough ending to last year's SCC season for the Dragons.

"This group of girls worked so hard for this," Trinity Sweeney said. "We set goals at the beginning of the season to win SCC and make states. We put everything into this and we have accomplished so much. I could not be prouder of this team."

Trinity knew this match-up with West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy would be another classic confrontation. Both regular season games not only went into overtime but also were decided by 2-1 outcomes with the teams splitting the series.

"The (Westie Sharks) are a really good team and they always give us a battle. (The SCC championship) was another great game between us," said Trinity, who was earlier named the SCC Player of the Year. "To come back from last year's emotions and feel these emotions; it's just insane."

Morgillo certainly shares those sentiments.

"The emotions were still fresh from last year, so to get it done this year means everything to us (as coaches) and to them (as players)," she said. "We are so proud of them. We worked for this moment all year."

The 2024 SCC champions!

(In order of uniform number/school in parentheses if other than Hamden High School): senior goalie Ana Gallardo-Holohan (ESUMS), junior forward Jackie Maurice (Foran), junior defender Julia Wilson, senior forward Sara Norton (Nonnewaug), senior defender Trinity Sweeney, sophomore forward Madison Krauss (Jonathan Law), sophomore forward Lexy Patel, sophomore forward Ava Martin, sophomore forward Marley Mestek (Holy Cross), junior forward Adriana Edwards, junior forward Giada Broccoli, sophomore forward Jozie Becker, junior defender Kat Carlson (Jonathan Law), freshman defender Daniela Hansen (Lyman Hall), sophomore forward Danika Wagner, senior defender Kye Gerfao (Sound School), junior defender Cate Cruess (Holy Cross), freshman defender Raquel Garcia (Wilbur Cross) and freshman goalie Kyla Sweeney. The coaches are Jessica Morgillo (head coach) and Bri Reilly and Madison Bakos (assistant coaches).

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