By Will LeBlond
The Ithaca High School girls hockey team’s wave of youth has them riding high to start the season.
With a huge roster of 28 players, but just two seniors, the next generation of Little Red players was forced to play big roles early on, but they’ve passed with flying colors. Through seven games, coach Emily Grippin’s team had compiled a 5-1-1 mark, which has already matched the win total from last winter when the team finished at 5-10 overall.
For Grippin, she knows she has a lot of talent to work with.
“It’s certainly up there,” she said about the team’s hot start. “Last year we had a great team, but we struggled to get into that win column. And this year, we’ve had a lot of success. We’ve had some really good goaltending and we have some players that can put the puck in the net.”
The youth is obvious right away with the scoring of the Little Red, as the team’s top-six scorers are juniors or younger. Through seven games, Hannah Partigianoni had the team lead in goals with eight and junior Kelty Goodrow shared the team lead in scoring with Partigianoni, as she combined two goals with six assists for eight points.
At the back end, Grippin noted that junior defenseman Kiely Howe has stepped into a leadership role and the goaltending of Catie Eisenhut has made a big difference as well. The sophomore was the backup to Devin Baylor last winter, but since Baylor graduated, Eisenhut’s minutes have increased a lot and she’s been growing into the role.
“I think my confidence has grown, because goalie is a position where you have to be very mentally tough,” said Eisenhut. “I’ve tried to be more confident over the years and come out more. My dad and uncle, who are my coaches for my club team, have really helped with that.”
The Lansing High School student had racked up a .929 save percentage and a 1.80 goals against average, along with a shutout through the team’s opening seven games. She started playing goal the better part of half a decade ago and her origin of playing the position came from trial and error.
“When you’re younger, you cycle through who plays goalie and I was the coach’s daughter and no one really wanted to play goalie, so I started doing it a little more,” said Eisenhut. “Then I actually ended up liking it, so I stuck with it.”
Her situation of attending a different school district is not unique with the team. Four other players come from different school district, including another one from Lansing, two from Dryden and one from Cortland.
With limited varsity experience, Eisenhut is another member of the youth core that is elevating this program to success, and the more those young pieces can play, the better.
“We’re trying to get them as much exposure to the game as possible,” said Grippin. “That way when they are upperclassmen, they have more success in being acclimated to the tempo of our game and what it’s going to be like.”
Even with 14 freshmen and eighth graders combined on the roster, Grippin got the sense pretty quickly that they would be able to jump into the lineup right away.
“I think right off the bat in the first practice, we realized we could be contenders,” said Grippin. “We have a lot of areas for improvement, but we also have a lot of areas that we’re doing much better in. I think it’ll be an exciting time in these next few months to see how things all shake out.”
Ithaca will continue their run down the home stretch of the season out of the holiday break when they will travel to face Saranac Lake on December 28. Then they will return home for a pair of games at Cass Park on January 5 against Potsdam and then the following day against Massena.