The Cranston/East Greenwich Lady Thunderbirds have enhanced their roster and they are excited to take the ice to prove they are better than last season’s 0-14-2 record.
“Our girls did a lot of work over the summer,” Thunderbirds head coach PJ Bessette said. “Coach Chris Sampson and Dave Bucci that runs the rink had a summer clinic for these girls and they all took advantage of it. So we have girls that are dedicated and willing to learn and want to play. And it shows.”
“We’ve had three practices now and each practice has gotten better,” Bessette said. “And I don’t just have two or three players that can play now, I probably have 8-10 girls that can play. So defensively, we’re going to be a lot better. Offensively, we’re going to be 100 percent better. It’s going to be a fun season.”
This season there will be a lot of senior leadership on the team with seven seniors starting.
Last year, Abbi Sampson, who is now a senior, carried the load for the Thunderbirds with 13 goals. This year however, Sampson will have some help on offense with the return of fellow senior Lindsey Brady, who spent the last two seasons playing with the East Greenwich boys’ team and freshman prospect Abbi Ainley, who played with the Rhode Island Sting.
“This year we have a lot of talent compared to last year,” Sampson said. “We’ve gotten one of our key players back, who started with us freshman year. We were also welcomed with a freshman this year, who is going to help us out a lot.”
Sampson is very encouraged by what she has seen out of Ainley.
“She’s got skill, speed, everything that we need to help us with this season,” Sampson explained. “I really admire her hard work and the dedication that she’s putting forward. With the way we look right now, I believe we have some chances against some teams this year, but we just have to take it one game at a time and grow from there.”
Bessette is also extremely excited to have Ainley on board.
“She’s very talented,” Bessette said. “Strong skater and she plays just as good as Abbi Sampson. It was a great surprise to see her come here for tryouts.”
Ainley is just as thrilled to join them and believes that together they will perform well on the ice.
“We have a pretty strong team this year compared to previous years,” Ainley said. “We have a good amount of talent. We should get a lot of goals and make some good breakouts, break-ins, and cycles.”
Bessette fully expects the team to win many more games this season.
Last year, goaltender and captain Hannah Slaiby gave up just 93 goals on 900 shots, good for a 5.35 Goals Against Average.
“The 5.35 Goals Against Average is kind of tainted because of all the shots she had,” Bessette said. “And we didn’t have the skaters that we have.”
“Hannah stopped about 60 shots a game last year,” Bessette continued. “She’s a senior, she’s going to be one of our leaders and if we don’t win 7-8 games this year, I’ll be shocked. Hopefully, we’ll go over .500.”
“I think it’s going to be a good season this year,” the goaltender added. “I think with all the practice that we’ve had and all the practice we’re going to have at the beginning of the season, it’s going to be good because we have a lot of good girls that are just starting out, and I think it’ll be better defensively too.”
Helping out Slaiby on defense will be senior captains Riley Bessette, daughter of PJ, and Riley’s cousin, Alexia Bessette, and Lauren Brady.
That tandem hopes to limit the shots on net this season.
“That’s the goal,” Alexia said. “I think that we’ve got a lot of new girls that have a lot of good potential and so we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with this season, and girls got to watch out because we’re coming in strong.”
Alexia is glad to have Lauren’s twin sister Lindsey back on the squad and hopes that her experience with the boys can make them tougher.
“She’s definitely going to help out on defense,” Alexia said. “From working with the boys, she knows that it’s a pretty fast-paced game and she’ll be able to keep up pretty well.”
Rylie also believes the new additions should give the team a much-needed boost.
“With the new assets like Abbi (Ainley) coming to this team, I think definitely we’re going to pull out some wins this year,” Rylie said. “Last year coming from a season with two ties and a bunch of losses, I think we’re definitely going to pull out some wins and definitely improve this season.”
Another player that will get a lot of work is junior Ashley Smedberg, who played with the Connecticut Polar Bears and has experience playing travel hockey.
“She’s one of my talented girls,” Bessette said. “She’s going to get a lot of ice time. She’s going to be one of my leaders on forward.
And, sophomore Ireleigh Bucci will see significant time on the ice.
Other key players for the Thunderbirds this season include Rose Caliri, Ana Caliri, and Elizabeth Amelotte, who are all from East Greenwich. Bessette says that combination formed one of his stronger lines at the end of the last year.
“Three girls that have never played hockey before came and learned and by the end of the year they were one of the better lines that I had going forward,” Bessette said.