Avon/Southington falls to Conard/Hall in long-awaited girls hockey debut

Avon’s Kori Bartko glides down the ice for the Nighthawks in Wednesday night’s season opening game in West Hartford. Conard/Hall beat Avon Southington, 5-1.

WEST HARTFORD, Dec. 6 – Southington’s Mike Carrera has been waiting for years for this moment.

Yet, Wednesday night’s contest against Conard/Hall it wasn’t much different than other games he has coached over the last five years with the Avon/Southington Nighthawks girls hockey team.

Carrera has been trying to form a high school girls hockey team for years. For the past four seasons, his team comprised mainly of girls from Avon, Farmington and Southington has played as an independent team – facing high school teams, junior varsity teams and prep school teams.

They played 20-to-25 games a year, participated in pre-season jamborees and did everything that most high school girls hockey teams in the state did – except play in the Connecticut High School Girls Hockey Association’s state tournament.

His team needed to be affiliated with a high school. That proved to be a tough thing to get.

“We heard every reason you could imagine,” he said against forming a program. But Carrera and a dedicated group of parents went to the Board of Education in Avon and Southington last spring to get approval to field a club team.

Conard/Hall goalie Nora McGowan (1) makes a save in heavy traffic in Wednesday night’s girls hockey game in West Hartford.

That team representing Avon and Southington hit the ice on Wednesday at Veteran’s Memorial Rink, opening the season against Conard/Hall. The biggest difference is where the Nighthawks can go from here – possibly to the state tournament.

Conard/Hall prevailed by a 5-1 score. The host Warchiefs scored a goal with 16 seconds left in the second period to extend their lead to two goals, 3-1. They added two late goals in the final 2:01 of the game, including an empty-net goal.

Avon sophomore Sarah Murphy had the lone goal for the Nighthawks early in the second period.

“This is incredibly satisfying. Unbelievable,” said Debra Rice of Southington, a parent who helps raise money for the team. One of the conditions is that the parents absorb the cost of running the team, including ice time, salaries for the coaches and paying for officials. The schools are responsible for insurance.

Rice estimates that the team will need $8,000 to field a team this year. The Nighthawks are hosting some fundraisers but she estimates that parents will pay probably around $750 for their girls to play. It could be less if the fundraisers get more money.

Avon’s Sarah Murphy scored the lone goal for the Nighthawks in Wednesday night’s 5-1 loss to Conard/Hall.

The Nighthawks have a two-year arrangement to field a club team. After that it will be re-evaluated.

“We’re excited about it and the girls are excited to play,” Avon High athletic director Tim FIlon said. “It’s definitely something new. Hopefully, it will continue to grow.” Southington High athletic director Greg Ferry echoed similar comments. “We love to give kids opportunities to compete,” Ferry said.

The Nighthawks have 15 players on the team this winter including five from Avon, eight from Southington and one each from East Granby and RHAM. Players from Farmington that had played on the team in the past were not allowed to join the co-op, Carrera said.

Several of the current Nighthawks have played over the past four years with the team. Last year’s team was particularly good with a record of 15-3-1 at one point of the season. It was a veteran team with many seniors that other high school teams were eager to play because they would be challenged, Carrera said.

“It’s nice to be here (as an established high school team),” Carrera said. “It’s a little sad because so many kids didn’t get this opportunity. But we’re here now.”

Carrera praised the efforts of Filon for helping the team get affiliated with the high schools. “He’s the reason, it happened,” Carrera said.

Conard/Hall’s Lindley Gorman gave the Warchiefs an early 1-0 lead with less than two minutes gone in the game but Avon/Southington settled down and applied some pressure.

With just 2:07 gone in the second period, Murphy got around a Conard/Hall defender and scored the first Nighthawk goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1. Conard/Hall had some good opportunities but Avon/Southington keeper Anelle Ohayon made some good saves.

Conard/Hall took a 2-1 lead after a Nighthawk turnover led to a 2-on-1 opportunity with Eily McGowan taking the pass from teammate Nikki Herz. Conard/Hall made it 3-1 with 16 seconds left in the second period when Abby Goncalves stuffed in a loose rebound that Avon/Southington failed to clear.

Maya Borden had two goals and an assist for the winners.

Avon/Southington goalie Arielle Ohayon keeps an eye on the puck in Wednesday night’s game against Conard/Hall.

Carrera was disappointed with the loss but he is optimistic about the season and feels his team will be in contention for a state playoff berth. The Nighthawks went 2-0-2 in the preseason Simsbury jamboree.

“We can play with these teams,” he said. “But we’ll need everyone on hand. I think we can have a good run at it.”

Avon/Southington practices and plays their home game at Newington Arena. They play in the Southern Connecticut Conference’s Northern Division.

The Nighthawks return to action on Friday when they travel to Fairfield to face the Ludlowe and Warde co-op team. The first home game will be Thursday, December 21 when they host Simsbury at Newington Arena at 4:30 p.m.

PHOTOS from the game

NOTES: The Nighthawks nickname dates back to the start of the team five seasons ago in an attempt to include a piece of nicknames from Southington, Avon and Farmington. Southington is the Blue Knights, Avon is the Falcons and Farmington is the Indians. The team colors are blue (Southington and Avon) with maroon pants (Farmington). … Girls ice hockey is not an official CIAC sport because not enough schools sponsor teams. That’s why an independent team –like the Nighthawks the past four years — could play high school teams. … The five girls from Avon include senior Carolyn Nisbet, sophomores Kori Bartko, Arielle Ohayon, Sarah Murphy and freshman Kayla Clark. … Avon/Southington is considered a club team by both schools.

Conard/Hall 5, Avon/Southington 1
At West Hartford
Avon/Southington (0-1)        0  1  0  — 1
Conard/Hall (1-0)                 1  2  2  — 5
Goals: Maya Borden (C/H) 2, Lindley Gorman (C/H), Eily McGowan (C/H), Nikki Herz (C/H), Sarah Murphy (A/S); Assists: Abby Lamson (A/S), Herz 2, Abby Goncalves (C/H), Borden (C/H); Goalies: Nora McGowan (C/H), W 1-0; Anelle Ohayon (A/S), L, 0-1; Logan Lada (A/S)

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