Clinton girls hockey team aims to build on last season’s success

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CLINTON — The Clinton girls hockey team won’t get a chance to defend its state title from last season but the team is ready to have another successful season.

The team got the green light to have an abbreviated season under COVID-19 protocols, and will play five games in 12 days. “Try to make the season as normal as possible,” said assistant coach Rob Kopek of the plan for 2021. “It’s only five (games), but for the seniors it’s great for them. They get their senior night at Clinton Arena with their parents.”

That senior night is tonight, when the team opens its season at 7:30 against Ithaca. Clinton is a unified team with players from six school districts.

The team will miss the players who graduated, key among them are two players from Rome Free Academy. One is Hailey Millington, the goalie who had a shutout in the state championship game last year. There’s also defenseman Elana Callichia, a “big, strong, smart defenseman, stay-at-home defensemen,” Kopek said of the leader on the ice.

The team has its top three scorers all back again. Fifth-year starter Mia Lopata of Clinton, a senior, was on the top line with RFA’s Ariel Williamson and Drew Kopek, but she will return to defense this season. Williamson, a senior, and Kopek, a sophomore, will be joined by New Hartford sophomore Ella Greico on the top line this year. Williamson is committed to playing at Division III Arcadia University next year.

Also returning on offense are Hailey Kwiatkowski, a junior at New Hartford; Kelsey Fuller, a freshman at RFA; and Finley Davignon, a junior at Clinton. New to the team on offense is Whitesboro sophomore Alexis Stivali.

Lopata will lead a defense that returns six other players: Alyssa Nardslico, an RFA sophomore; Perri Cronk, a senior from Vernon-Verona-Sherrill; her sister, Payton, a VVS junior; Abigail Kurdziolek, a Whitesboro junior; Mia Eisenhut, a New Hartford junior; and Madison Dery, a Clinton senior. Perri Cronk will play for Division III King’s College next season.

“Big, strong, can put the puck in the net, can run the power play from up top,” said Kopek of Lopata, who is committed to Division I Quinnipiac University. The longtime captain also brings “leadership on and off the ice. She’s the big sister type to the underclassmen.” He added: “She’s an assistant coach as a senior. She’s always been that way. Never been afraid to step up.”

Joining them on defense are newcomers Isabella Nappi, a freshman from Utica Proctor; Sadie Davignon, a sophomore from Clinton; and Leola Johnson, a freshman from Whitesboro.

Casey Clausen will be in goal for the Warriors this season. The Whitesboro eighth grader will have big skates to fill with the departure of Millington. It will look a bit different too, as the 5-foot-7 Clausen fills the net compared to Millington, who at 5-foot-1 used quickness rather than size. “We’re very confident with her in net,” said Kopek of Clausen. “And with the defense we have in front of her we don’t expect much to change from last year.”

The team won’t get a chance to repeat as state champs because COVID-19 caused the cancelation of regional playoffs. But the team has plenty of goals, including extending its 14-game unbeaten streak. “Just continue,” Kopek said of the plan for the short season. “The newcomers are excited to be a part of it.”

The team has a new look behind the bench this season too. For just this season, SUNY Morrisville coach Melissa Lomanto will be Clinton’s head coach. The college’s season was canceled because of COVID. She’ll head back to the college level next year.

The team will take on Oswego at home at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. They travel to Skaneateles Monday at 5 p.m. They host Skaneateles at 7:30 p.m. on March 11 then finish the season at Oswego at 10:30 a.m. on March 13.

The unified team has players from schools across the county: four from Clinton, four from RFA and four from Whitesboro, as well as three from New Hartford, two from VVS and one from Proctor. The team has had strong representation from RFA in its six years of existence. “It’s been a good partnership with Clinton and RFA,” said Kopek, whose daughter Drew is one of those RFA players.

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