Thomaston's Lexi Long between the pipes for Taft girls hockey team. Story by John Torsiello.
By, JOHN TORSIELLO
Thomaston’s Lexi Long likes being the center of attention. And some 30 to 40 times a game she’s exactly that as goalie for the Taft School girl’s hockey team in Watertown.
Long, who recently turned 16, is the backup goaltender for the Big Red, which is being coached by former Olympic gold medalist Gretchen Silverman this season. Long is a day student who has been playing hockey since she was a young girl.
“I don’t know quite how to put it, but I like having the attention on me and feel like I’m in control of how things turn out for our team,” Long said prior to a recent practice at the Odden Arena rink on the school’s sprawling campus. “I don’t have the fear of having shots coming at me and you have to have that as a goalie.”
Long, who attend the Litchfield and Washington Montessori schools prior to attending Taft, said it was an easy choice to go to the private school.
“My dad went here and I felt like I would be accepted here. The academics are rigorous, which I wanted, and the athletics are of a high quality. We have great facilities.”
She played junior varsity her freshman season and became the backup netminder when two goalies in front of her graduated. She’s been playing behind fellow sophomore Becky Dutton this year. She would like to see more time but she is realistic about her situation.
“Becky is such a great goalie. I learn so much from her and that is OK. I’ve gotten into games this year and it’s been a super experience. I just keep working as hard as I can and try to help the team.”
Long has started several games for the Big Red and seen action in two others, giving up only one goal in a tie against Gunnery, none in a half of work against Pomfret, and four in a recent loss against powerful Westminster team that beat Taft, 5-4, in overtime.
“I did give up four goals to Westminster but I felt like I kept my team in the game because I made 40 saves that day. They beat us on a penalty shot in overtime, 5-4. I was actually surprised to get a start against such a good team but I felt like I stood up to the test.”
Taft, which has produced a number of outstanding female hockey players, including Olympic gold medalist A.J. Mleczko, doesn’t have a great record in Silverman’s first year, standing at 3-10-2 in its first 15 games. But the Big Red has been competitive in most games and the program is headed in the right direction.
Long began playing hockey when he was around eight years old. She played in the former all girls Northwestern Hockey program and then played on a fewU-14 teams and Tier II squads. At the age of 12 she earned a spot on the Danbury Lady Whalers U-19 team, quite an accomplishment for a youngster not even in high school.
“That was where I improved a lot,” she said of her days with the Danbury U-19 team. “I was playing against girls who were seniors in high school and maybe seven years older than I was. But they took me in and respected me. The shots were certainly harder and I think it made me a better goalie.” She also played with a Simsbury Tier team prior to attending Taft.
While she is an outstanding ice hockey goalie, the sport isn’t her primary athletic focus, at least not now. She is also the goalie for the Taft field hockey team and says that sport is where her main attention lies. She has also played lacrosse but doesn’t know if she will go out for the sport this year.
“Field hockey is my favorite sport but you never know how things will develop in ice hockey,” said the 5-foot, 4-inch Long. “I do it to keep in shape and keep sharp during the off-season and I love being part of the team. But if I get better maybe I could go farther with it. I just don’t know if I could take it all the way to college.” Long prides herself on her lateral movement and her ability to make pad saves.
“I can make adjustment and go side to side pretty well. I have a great work ethic and always try to work on little things to improve.”
She compared being a goalie in ice hockey to field hockey.
“Really, there are a lot of similarities. The angles are the same and you have to bring the same aggression when you are facing shots and be fearless. I think I do that pretty well.”
While Becky Dutton gets most of the minutes between the pipes, Gretchen Silverman knows she has a rough and ready Lexi Long set to go and face anything the opposing teams can throw at her. One thing is for certain, she isn’t going to back down from anybody or any shot.