By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Westwood High School girls varsity hockey enters a new era in 2021 with first-year head coach Lauren Hillberg taking over the reins of the program.
Along with playing under a new head coach, the Westwood girls will need to adjust to playing organized sports during a pandemic. A plethora of rule changes for the 2020-2021 season will include playing a condensed 10-game, TVL-only schedule. The Wolverines will play in front of a limited number of spectators, the exact number of which will depend upon the capacity of each rink in which they play. All players, coaches, staff and those in attendance will be required to wear masks at all times, and players will get dressed into their equipment at home instead of using locker rooms.
Despite all the adversity and uncertainties athletes will be forced to face on the ice in the coming months, the Westwood girls are viewing this 2021 season as an opportunity. After so much has been cancelled throughout the last year due to COVID-19, the Wolverines are simply thankful for the chance to win as many hockey games as possible.
Leading Westwood will be four senior co-captains: forward Hannah Blomquist, forward Abby Crowley, defenseman Kathleen Reissfelder and defenseman Kelly Ross.
"Some goals that are really prominent to our team this year are just pushing each other to be the best players we can be," said Blomquist when asked about her team's general goals. "With a young and developing team that already has so much potential with returning players, it is important that we continue to work as hard as we can to make our teammates better in practice and games - even when we don’t have an ultimate end-goal to win a state championship. I think another goal we have is just to have fun. With all we have lost with our season, there is so much we can still make out of it. We are so lucky to be able to step on the ice every day, and so just being able to enjoy ourselves and have fun while also having a competitive mindset is something that is really important to us this year. I think our last big goal is to play every game with a purpose. Even though we don’t have a tournament to play for, we still want to win games and work on getting better as a team."
As far as the new rules and having to play out their season during a pandemic, Blomquist says she and her teammates are doing all they can in order to make the proper adjustments. Blomquist also says she and the other captains have made team bonding in a safe manner one of their top priorities as the new season approaches.
"I think for everyone, it has been a huge change to this current season from last season," said Blomquist. "We spent so much time together off the ice last season, and not being able to do that this year has made it really hard to do team bonding - such as pasta dinners, and simply being together. We have had to be creative in finding ways to safely bond while following the proper precautions. I think for me, personally, one of the biggest changes is not being able to use the locker rooms and fewer bus rides. I think it makes it really hard for us to be able to get to know our teammates better and get pumped up for the game as a group. As far as masks go, it was not a huge adjustment for me, personally, as I had already played field hockey during the pandemic. Us captains, as well as coaches, have to be more aware this year than any other, because we have to make sure everyone stays spread out and keeps their mask on - which our team has done a great job following so far. Overall, the pandemic has caused many challenges that our team has had to overcome, but we have been making the best out of what we have and we are so lucky to be able to be playing hockey."
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.