A new addition to winter athletics encourages female representation in ice hockey


Lindsay Benza '23

The introduction of Sacred Heart’s new ice hockey team this year encourages girls to excel in the male-dominated sport.

Sacred Heart Greenwich is introducing a new sport to the school community this winter.  Seniors Isabel Lehrman and Erin Griffin and junior Charlotte Gannon are demonstrating their passion for ice hockey by beginning a new club team.  They are enthusiastic about bringing this male-dominated sport to the Sacred Heart Upper School with the support of their coaches, Ms. Sonia Occhionero and Ms. Abbie Ives.

Charlotte has played ice hockey since kindergarten and developed a deep appreciation for the sport.  During the past few years, she noticed a lack of female representation in hockey while playing for teams outside of school.  After arriving at Sacred Heart in the eighth grade, Charlotte felt inspired to start a team.

“There are fewer opportunities for girls to play [hockey] and less of a professional network,” Charlotte said.  “I thought that starting a team at Sacred Heart would be a small way I can make a difference in the women’s ice hockey community.  Also, I found that Sacred Heart was the perfect place to do so.  Everyone was encouraging of the idea and wanted to make a difference as well.”

Isabel began playing ice hockey in third grade.  The sport continues to teach her about dedication and commitment.  Like Charlotte, Isabel believes that women have the ability to succeed in this predominately male sport.

The ice hockey team designs new jerseys for their first season.  Courtesy of Mrs. Celia Pashley

Erin took up ice hockey thirteen years ago and maintains her love for the sport.  In her sophomore year of high school, she stopped playing ice hockey to focus on field hockey, despite her passion for the game.  She enjoys competing with her friends and creating relationships outside of school.

“It is a team sport so you have the opportunity to be a part of a family on and off the ice, which personally was my favorite part,” Erin said.  “I played for a very competitive team so was on the road 24/7 which made the rink become a second home.  I am not the biggest fan of winter, but hockey made it my favorite season.  Having those Friday night games against your biggest rivals under the lights was always something I looked forward to.  Making my teammates and coaches proud was something that honestly made those freezing and sometimes three-hour-long practices worth it.”

Mrs. Carolina Gelbman, interim Athletic Director, is confident that the team will be a positive addition to athletics at Sacred Heart.  She spoke about the support the department received in beginning a hockey team.

“As a program, we are stepping outside of the box and introducing a sport that is male-dominated, however, I am sure that all of our student-athletes are ready to take this challenge on,” Mrs. Gelbman said.  “Ice hockey is able to teach so many different life lessons and challenge each one of our players on and off the ice.  We had a number of students interested in ice hockey and after discussion with parents and other local programs within the FAA and NEPSAC league we realized that it would enhance our community, challenge our athletes, and create opportunities elsewhere for growth.”

Charlotte, Isabel, and Erin will help to conduct morning practices alongside Head Coach Ms. Sonia Occhionero and Assistant Coach Ms. Abbie Ives at the ice rinks in Chelsea Piers in Stamford, Connecticut.   Ms. Occhionero began playing hockey at five years old.  Before playing at the Kent School in Kent, Connecticut, she played on youth travel teams in Montreal, Canada.  Ms. Occhionero went on to play division three ice hockey at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.

Ms. Occhionero hopes to lead fun and productive practices for the players to improve their skills.  She also wants to grow the Sacred Heart hockey program and develop a strong, spirited, and skilled team.

“The plan is to ensure each player is getting better every day by working on individual skills and learning the fundamentals of the sport,” Ms. Occhionero said.  “The main goal for this season is to create the foundation for the program for years to come.  A team that has a tight-knit culture and prides itself on hard work and tons of fun.  Secondly, I hope that this season inspires the Sacred Heart community to join the program and spread the love for the sport.”

Charlotte looks forward to leading the team this season.  In the early stages of the winter, she is focused on promoting the sport within the Sacred Heart community and encourages girls of all skill levels to join the team.

Charlotte plays in an ice hockey game for her club team.  Courtesy of Charlotte Gannon ’23

“Although we are still a club, I also hope to play a few scrimmages against local teams,” Charlotte said.  “We are so early in the development of the team that I don’t really care about winning or losing right now.  As long as we expose the team to the competitive nature of the sport I will be happy.  For the following years, however, a goal of mine would be to shape it into one of Sacred Heart’s most successful teams.”

Mrs. Gelbman believes that within the next few years, the hockey team will grow to be a varsity sport.  She spoke about the athletic department’s hopes for the team this year and in the years to come.

“Our intention is to move to a varsity sport in three years as a full Class A member of the NEPSAC league,” Mrs. Gelbman said. “We want all of our athletes to learn about the sport, instill a love of the game in our community, focus on the basics and fundamentals, and set the culture for our program to build on in future years [2023-2024].”

Erin is ready to begin the season and meet her new teammates.  She feels that the new hockey team will bring a variety of qualities to the Sacred Heart community.

“I think this sport could truly bring something special to Sacred Heart,” Erin said.  “Whether that is community, team building, or even a little more heart I think it will definitely be a positive addition.”

Featured Image by Lindsay Benza ’23