CASTLETON, Vt. – Entering the 2018-19 season with a fresh face at the reigns, the Castleton University women's ice hockey program will look to continue to build upon the success it has had in recent years.
Mike Venezia – a 2011 graduate of Lock Haven University – takes over at head coach for the Spartans, looking to take the program back to the New England Hockey Conference playoff. While he has had plenty of hockey experience, it will be his first chance to be the lead person on the bench.
"I'm excited to accept the challenge. I have had the opportunity to work with some great coaches and I'm excited to mold what I have learned into my own style and take the program to the next level," Venezia stated.
Castleton will drop the puck on its season at 4 p.m. on Friday as it hosts Morrisville State – a team Venezia is very familiar with. Yet, as much as the former assistant coach enjoyed his time with the Mustangs, he wants the focus to be on his new team. The team that made it to the NEHC Semifinal in 2017-18 and that sports a very diverse roster with senior leadership, newcomers and a mix in between.
Leading the team with 13 goals and 23 points last season, Aimee Briand will return – sporting a 'C' on her uniform – and looking to spread her knowledge through experience. Joining her on the front line is reigning NEHC Rookie of the Year Ali Stevens, who notched 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points.
The experience does not stop there as captain Jade Remillard, as well as seniors Chanel Tvergyak, Jocelyn Forrest, Felicia Bjalvegard and Rylie Wills all, understand what it takes to be a playoff squad.
"We have a very experienced team and those experienced players are going to be motivated. We didn't come out on top in some games that we should have last year and I believe that will give us the extra push that we need," Venezia pointed out.
Junior forwards Maeghan Vasile (5), Nicolle Trivino (9) and Bre Babiarz (5) tallied 19 points combined a year ago, with several coming in key moments. Meanwhile, sophomore Courtney Gauthier will make the switch to the front line after tallying 12 assists from the back a year ago.
Wills, Alexis Kalm, Katlyn Hathaway and newcomer Jessie Foote will be relied upon in goal, providing the final line of defense. Wills, Kalm and Hathaway were responsible for leading the team to a 2.53 goals-against-average and an impressive .903 save percentage last season.
Aside from Foote, Venezia welcomes freshmen skater Ryanne Mix, looking to fill the gap that graduating senior Hannah Rose left on the back line.
"Jessie and Ryanne are going to be key additions to the program; I'm excited to see their growth. We expect as much from them as we do the rest of our players. We expect that they will put in the work on and off the ice."
Following the first few weeks of practice and the team's exhibition game, the results are promising.
"We've had a lot of high energy, up-tempo practices with a highly motivated group," Venezia remarked. "Having the scrimmage and all of the practices under our belt, we have found things that we need to work on and perfect for the season ahead."
The Spartans will be looking to turn all of the hard work into success on the ice, recording positive results at the end of each day.
Yet, despite all of that, Castleton will define the 2018-19 campaign as a team effort, simply put. Choosing the motto "together we will," the mindset is to focus as one and put everything else aside.
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