By Mike Madera
Special to the Voice
With the end of a sports season also comes the end of the careers for senior players. For the West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy girls’ hockey team, the bitter end came in an opening round loss of the state tournament.
Each player and coach pondered what could have been on the long bus ride home from Newington. What many may have also wondered was the question of what life would be like without two of the most heralded players in the program’s history as seniors Taylor Nowak and Megan Froehlich played in their last contest for the Westie Sharks.
“Taylor has made her mark on Connecticut girls’ high school hockey far beyond the West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy team,” head coach Erin Blake said. “She recorded 159 career points. She set records, broke records, and was a leader. Those are just a few things she has accomplished in her short four years of high school. Taylor has been the leading scorer and point holder for the past four years. She has played forward, defense, and wishes she could have played in goal too!”
How good was Nowak? The senior became the first player since Gabi Prisco to be named All-State for three consecutive years with her third selection coming after this season.
Nowak, who will need to make a post-grad decision between Vermont Academy, Kent, and Choate, starred for the Westie Sharks for four years and finished her career with 114 goals, reaching 100 this year in a loss to New Canaan. Not only did Nowak score in triple digits, she finished her career as West Haven’s all-time points leader with 159.
“Anyone who watches Taylor play can tell that she puts her heart and soul into the game,” West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy assistant coach Jocey Morrell said. “She’s worked on and off the ice for many years to get where she is today and it shows. All of her hard work will pay off and I’m excited to see what’s next for her.”
“Taylor’s work ethic is admirable,” Blake added. “She always strives to be better than the day before. She has so many deserving accolades to go along with her tremendous career, but she is humble. That is what impresses me most about her. We can count on Taylor’s hockey intelligence, speed, and drive to help win games. She gives 100% when she touches the ice for practice and games. Taylor respects the game of hockey. From her coaches to her teammates, from officials to opponents, that is something that I will miss most. But, I feel lucky to have had the honor to coach such an incredible player and young lady like Taylor.”
Froehlich, who was named to the All-SCC/SWC first team and All-State first team following this season, entered her senior campaign needing 37 points to reach the 100-point mark. The senior accomplished this mark in a late season win over Hamden and finished the season with 23 goals and 27 assists for 50 points.
“I really did not know if it was possible,” Froehlich said. “Coach (Blake) said I may reach it in my senior year, but I did not really know.”
“Gritty. That’s one word I would use to describe Megan,” Morrell added of Froehlich. “She went out there every game for four years and gave it her all. Whether she was hurt, tired, or sick, she pushed herself to the limit for the success of the team.”
Both Nowak and Froehlich came on to the scene as highly-touted freshmen and neither disappointed in their rookie campaigns. Nowak helped ignite the offense of the Westie Sharks with 24 goals and 6 assists in her inaugural campaign, while Froehlich was just as impressive with nine goals and 10 assists as the duo combined for 49 points.
“Since it was a new program, I was a little nervous coming in,” Froehlich said of her freshman year. “I knew it had done well as a first-year combined team. I wanted to be part of it. We were able to win the SCC championship. I was glad to be part of it and be able to put some numbers on the board.”
Sophomore season saw the duo combine for 58 points as Nowak had 35 points on 25 goals and 10 assists, and Froehlich continued the balanced attack which would define her career with 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points.
“Megan just goes out and she pushes herself to win and that passion is what makes her successful,” Blake said of Froehlich. “She is a playmaker. Megan isn’t in it for herself as she sees the ice extremely well and makes plays happen each shift. She communicates well on the ice and her drive to succeed is what makes her such a strong player. Whether setting up the pass with 62 assists or putting the puck in the net with 56 career goals, she has been such an asset to the team. Megan has been a huge part of the West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy growth and success for the past four years. She is a versatile player. I have used her on defense if need be throughout each season. She doesn’t complain, she listens, and she wants to do whatever is best for her team. As a coach, what more could you ask for? She has grown into a tremendous leader both on and off the ice. It has been a pleasure and honor to coach such a stand-up player and person like Megan.”
The wins continued to pile up for the Westie Sharks as junior year saw the Westies win 20 games, before falling in the state semifinals. Both Nowak and Froehlich, who played on a line which also included Jianna Cohrs, were a big part, combining for 62 points.
“We have been together the past three years,” Nowak said of the line. “We always talk on the ice and we have a really good bond off the ice.”
Nowak, who also plays soccer and lacrosse, reached 80 goals and 100 points with 31 goals and 41 points for 106 career points. She reached over 100 goals and 159 points with 34 goals and 53 points her senior campaign.
“I would not have gotten those without my teammates,” Nowak said. “It was an exciting four years. It is sad this is it and I will never put that jersey on again.”
Froehlich, who is still deciding her collegiate plans on where she will study psychology, continued her stellar senior season in fine fashion, finishing with 23 goals and 27 assists for 50 points as a senior and 113 points in her career.
“I felt like I had an off year my junior year,” Froehlich said. “I did not play my best. Before I went to captains’ practice, I knew I really needed to work hard this year. I set some goals I wanted to accomplish, and just went out there doing the best I can.”
While the points and honors will add up, it was the way which both Nowak and Froehlich competed which will long be remembered. Not only did both play hard each shift, but they avoided penalties.
In four seasons, the duo combined for just 34 penalty minutes, with Nowak having just 12 penalty minutes against her, including none her sophomore year and just two her senior year.
“It is just a lot of clean play,” Nowak said. “I just kept my feet moving and backchecked. When you stop moving your feet, that is when you get called for penalties. I always kept my head up and went for the puck.”
After 14 penalty minutes her freshman campaign, Froehlich had just four penalty minutes her sophomore year, and two each in her junior and senior campaigns.
Accounting for the duo’s 272 combined career points will be hard to figure out for the Westie Sharks. Replacing the student-athletes in Froehlich and Nowak will be even tougher.