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On-the-ice training: Hartford lacrosse standout adjusts to playing hockey

  • Zoe Pfeiffer, of White River Junction, a long-time lacrosse player, is in her second year playing goalie for the Hartford girls ice hockey team after giving up basketball. Pfeiffer makes a save during practice at Barwood Arena in White River Junction, Vt., Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford High School sophomore Zoe Pfeiffer, 15, of White River Junction, waits for a ride home from hockey practice at Barwood Arena in White River Junction, Vt., Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford goalie Zoe Pfeiffer, 15, of White River Junction, works with assistant coaches Erin Stevens, right, and Scott Shaw, during practice at Barwood Arena in White River Junction, Vt., Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. Pfeiffer, who plays attack in lacrosse, said she sometimes thinks about what it's like for her teammates on offense. Though she wouldn't give up her spot in goal, she said, "it just looks like so much fun out there, it's so fast." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford's Zoe Pfeiffer.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2019

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Almost two seasons later, the image remains in Bill Goldsworthy’s mind. The Hartford High girls hockey coach was excited to have freshman Zoe Pfeiffer at practice as the Hurricanes’ new backup goaltender. Her learning curve, however, was practically 90 degrees.

“She’s not afraid to try anything out,” Goldsworthy said. “But we put her on skates and put her on the ice, and she looked worse than Bambi ever could.”

For those who are unfamiliar with the vintage animated movie clip, Bambi the baby deer has a hard time getting his hooves beneath him upon entering the world. Pfeiffer, reborn as a hockey backstop, was in similar straits. Recreational skating had not prepared her for the flat blades on goaltending boots. The bulky equipment on her limbs, head and torso made the experience all the more awkward.

“I’d never even really seen a hockey goalie before last year, so I didn’t know to be nervous,” said Pfeiffer, a niece of Hartford athletic director Jeff Moreno who was encouraged to play by her uncle. “I didn’t even know how to get dressed the first time.

“The first couple days were tricky, but after a month I was a lot better.”

Pfeiffer’s saving grace? The sophomore is a standout athlete with a goal of playing college lacrosse. She was a major contributor on the Hurricanes’ turnaround in that sport last spring, playing attack and helping them reach the state semifinals for the first time.

With field hockey and basketball also in her background, Pfeiffer has been honing her sports skills since she started school, and she’s needed them all the past two winters for a program that’s not what it once was.

Vermont girls hockey held its first sanctioned state playoffs during the 2001-02 season and Hartford reached the title game. That started the Hurricanes on a run in which they won at least 11 games eight times during a 10-year span.

Back-to-back seasons that featured a combined 10 victories led Hartford to drop into Division II for the 2013-14 campaign and the team’s record since then has been 33-80-8. Longtime social studies teacher Nelson Fogg, who helped found the program in 1993, moved into school administration, and assistant Marc Gattie took over for the 2013-14 season.

Gattie, a former Lebanon High star, went 30-48-6 in four seasons before resigning, and Goldsworthy is 3-32-2 since his arrival last season. Hartford was 1-19-1 last winter and is currently 2-13-1. (The Vermont Principals Association split girls hockey into three divisions this winter; the Canes have since joined D-III.)

The loss of leading scorer Caitlin Gaudet to a field hockey knee injury and the transfer of Kendyl Boisvert to Rivendell (she now plays at Woodstock) set the Hurricanes back early, but slow progress is being made.

“Our record doesn’t show a major difference from last year, but the score differential, the ability to play in a system and our overall competitiveness has improved by leaps and bounds,” Goldsworthy said. “I told (Moreno) to give me five years and, with that in mind, I think we’re in pretty good shape for the future.”

Pfeiffer’s play is a significant factor. Last season, she mostly backed up current junior Jacqueline Gour, and one night faced 62 shots during a two-period performance. However, Gour, who grew up playing hockey, has been hamstrung by injuries and illness this season and has appeared in only one period of game action. Pfeiffer, 15, has seemingly improved with the practice. Her save percentage is .851 and her goals-against average is 4.20.

“She’s starting to naturally react to the puck and make those last-minute desperation saves that you really can’t teach,” said fifth-year Hurricanes goaltending coach Erin Stevens, a former St. Michael’s College netminder and an English teacher at the high school. “Even after a half-hour of work on specific skills, like side-to-side movement, using her glove or stopping shots low on the ice, you see immediate improvement.”

Said teammate Kylie Clark: “She’s phenomenal for someone who just started playing.”

Pfeiffer still runs into problems. She and the Hurricanes fell into a 6-0 hole one night and she was pulled in favor of Gour. A recent matchup with Woodstock featured a 3-0 lead after a period, but morphed into a 8-4 defeat. And there was the outing in which she lost her stick during a scramble and wasn’t sure how to react.

“No one gave me their stick, and I haven’t played or even watched that much hockey, so I didn’t know what to do,” Pfeiffer said with a laugh.

Even with such moments, Pfeiffer’s save percentage has risen and her goals-against average has dropped. The mental toughness developed as a year-round athlete and a high-level lacrosse player has served her well in shaking off scores and adding to Hartford’s overall growth.

“It’s all about the mindset,” said Pfeiffer, whose team has five regular season games remaining. “The minute after that shot goes in, you can’t think about it anymore. The next shot is yours and you have to keep going. It’s tougher to handle after the game when you remember all the ones that went in.”

With Pfeiffer in net, there are fewer all the time.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.