CHATHAM, NJ - The idea from the start of the combined Chatham-Madison girls ice hockey team was to grow enough so that each school could someday have its own team.
The time is now, with Madison and Chatham separated into two teams for the 2019-2020 season. The Cougar girls officially open their first solo season 3 p.m. Wednesday vs. Immaculate Heart Academy at the Ice Vault in Wayne.
"I was a little nervous about the numbers when we split," Chatham coach Kevin Hannon said. "We have 17 girls, which is a healthy number for our first roster."
The number on the roster has been 18 before returning senior goalie Ginger Boles was lost for the season with an injury. That started a recruiting effort to find a replacement goalie and the girls pulled junior Grace Zinn from the halls of CHS and got her to put on ice hockey pads for the first time.
"Grace was recruited from within," Hannon said. "Grace is intense and very athletic. She's been awesome to work with and way ahead of where a beginner would be. She gives us hope."
Zinn played goalie for the Chatham field hockey team this fall when the Cougars advanced to the state sectional championship game. Unfortunately for Zinn, the rules are completely different in the two sports. In field hockey, a goalie is not allowed to cover up the ball with her hands, but that's exactly what a goalie wants to do with the puck in ice hockey to prevent a rebound goal.
"I have to say she's a very quick study," Hannon said. "She's a very competitive and athletic person."
Zinn will be surrounded by veteran players from the Chatham-Madison team that went 19-1-1 and won the Morris-Union Girls Ice Hockey League championship last season.
Forward Molly Coyne gives Chatham one of the top point producers in the state. The junior scored a hat trick in Chatham-Madison's 5-2 win over Kent Place for the league title, giving her 21 goals and 16 assists for the season. In her first two years, Coyne has collected 50 goals and 37 assists.
Chatham also boasts the talents of senior Jen Olnowich, who has committed to play NCAA Division 1 ice hockey for Princeton University next season. Olnowich is a goalie on the Chatham boys varsity team but will skate as a defender on the Chatham girls team.
"Jen will play for us as long as she doesn't have a conflict with the boys' team," Hannon said. "She'll skate for us."
Last season, Olnowich was a high-scoring defender for the girls with 14 goals and 11 assists.
Also returning for the all-Chatham team are seniors Veronica Quidore, Caroline Hannon, and McKenna O'Connor (8 goals). The juniors include Cate Gallagher, Hannah Bedell (10 goals, 7 assists) and Lauren Arias (14 goals, 8 assists).
The sophomore class members are Audrey Van Wie, Campbell Ragins, Claire Silverstein, Kara Groh, and Sophia Gaysinskiy. The freshmen on the varsity are Georgia Tully, Kate Romano, and Madison Forno.
Hannon was the head coach of the combined team last season, but he lost all his assistants in the split. Chatham has added a new assistant coach in Nicole Arnold, who plays for the Metropolitan Riveters of the National Women's Hockey League.