CASTLETON, Vt. – The Castleton University women's ice hockey team enters the 2017-18 season as a changed team embracing a new culture while looking to bring the program back to its past prominence.
Castleton had a rebuilding 2016-17 season, posting an 8-14-4 mark overall and a 7-8-2 record in New England Hockey Conference play. Despite fielding a roster with only six upperclassmen, the Spartans earned a postseason berth, ending their season in the NEHC quarterfinals.
Rookie head coach Ashley Salerno will be tasked to lead the Spartans after spending several years as an assistant coach, including two under the watch of legendary head coach Bill Mandigo at Middlebury College. Former Plattsburgh State defender Mia Favretto enters her second year as a graduate assistant coach, while first-year goaltender coach Connor Stewart rounds out the supporting cast.
"I'm excited and it has been a long summer. I wouldn't say there are no nerves, but I'm mostly excited," said Castleton head coach Ashley Salerno on the prospect of her first-ever game as a head coach. "I have a good network of coaches and good resources that are helping. It has been a long wait to get going and waiting for the girls to come back, so it is exciting more than anything."
Salerno will rely on her captain, Hannah Rose and assistant captains, Lisa Kilroy and Jade Remillard, to help re-establish a winning culture and lead the team forward. The trio combined to score 27 points in 2016-17.
"Getting the players to buy into another transition and another coach is definitely challenging. We are encouraging players to do the right things. Honestly, the culture is the biggest part of what we are trying to do," Salerno said. "These girls have played in a lot of different situations and they have heart. They are willing to compete."
Among the other 11 returning athletes, Aimee Briand and Chanel Tvergyak lead the front and back lines, respectively. Briand tallied a team-high 19 points with eight goals and 11 assists. Topping defenders, Tvergyak notched six goals and six assists, while contributing a plus-2 rating.
Alexis Kalm anchored the Spartan defense between the pipes a season ago; making 380 saves in 15 appearances and earned All-NEHC Rookie recognition. Meanwhile, Ali Stevens and Casey Traill are expected to be the top newcomers.
"Ali Stevens is a very skilled forward and Casey Traill can play multiple positions, although she will play defense for the majority," Salerno noted. "Overall, we are hardworking and despite the learning curve, the team is on the same page."
As for a specific goal for the 2017-18 campaign, Salerno insists the team doesn't have a set number of wins they would like to reach. Instead, the Spartans are only focused on establishing and maintaining a strong bond of unity and progression. Although, the University of Vermont graduate mentioned that hosting a home playoff game would be nice and winning one would be even sweeter.
Castleton opens its season at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 27 against nonconference opponent Becker College at Spartan Arena in Rutland, Vt. In the backend of the opening weekend, women's ice hockey travels to face a perennially ranked program in Oswego State at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
"Establishing a strong athletic and academic culture is what Spartan hockey is all about and it is good for future recruits," Salerno explains. "We are very excited for the home opener. Becker is a new opponent, we have never played them and they haven't played yet. We are going to stick to the game plan and prepare as we would for anyone."
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