A new girls’ hockey season is underway, the second under the auspices of the Maine Principals’ Association. Games are longer and the ice will even be surfaced, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the promise of local squads.

Falmouth has gotten off to the best start. The Yachtsmen (10-7-3 with a 4-1 semifinal round loss to Biddeford in 2008-09) have a new coach this winter in Rob Carrier, who was an assistant at Cheverus for five seasons, helping the Stags become one of the top squads in the state. The Yachtsmen have three games under their belt this winter and are 2-1 to date.

This year’s offense is led by sophomore Megan Fortier (an all-star a year ago, who leads the team with five goals and three assists this season), senior Maria Darrow (three goals in three games), senior Jacki Aaskov and senior Nicole Foley, who recently starred together in field hockey. Freshmen Jade Bazinet and Gabby St. Angelo look to also make a mark. Defensively, senior Amber Aaskov and Fortier, along with freshman Abby Payson, protect junior goalie Jen Greene (who has saved 55 of the 59 shots she’s seen so far this winter).

This team should be competitive against virtually everyone this season. The Yachtsmen like their chances to get back to the playoffs and if they do, will be capable of doing some damage.

“As the girls learn and become more comfortable with the new systems and the new way practices are being run, the more competitive the team will be,” said Carrier.

Greely was an East Region finalist a year ago. The Rangers lost 4-0 to Lewiston to wind up 13-5-2. So far this winter, however, the Rangers have struggled. After downing Yarmouth 9-1 in the opener, Greely lost 7-0 to Cheverus, 4-2 to St. Dom’s, 2-0 to Leavitt and 6-1 to Falmouth.

So far, the offense has come from sophomore Ceci Hodgkins, freshman phenoms Megan Finlay and Paige Tuller, senior Melanie Howland (a first-team East Region all-star last year), senior Kate Storey, senior Kaytie Ewen, and Etta Copenhagen. Junior Michaela Finnegan (a second-team all-star) and senior Sarah Robinson are also threats with the puck. Junior Casey Benner anchors the defense, with help from freshman Chelsey Andrews. Junior Maggie Bower and Emma Seymour split time in goal.

Look for Greely to right its ship in the days to come and return to contender status. There’s plenty of promise on this roster. The Rangers could be very strong by the time the postseason rolls around.

“We have a lot of depth this season, which will help us tremendously with the longer games and hopefully give us an edge over our opponents,” said third-year coach Heather Geoghan. “Our numbers continue to be strong with 32 skaters. We lost a couple key players from last year, so we certainly have some work to do, bu the girls are focused on improving and working hard as a cohesive team. It should be an interesting season for girls’ hockey in its second official year.”

Yarmouth was 6-11-1 a year ago and fell short of the playoffs, but is optimistic in 2009-10. So far, the Clippers have struggled, dropping their first three games, but they expect to turn it around.

The Clippers have gotten offense so far from juniors Alicia Piccirillo, Courtney Barker and Suzanne Driscoll. Senior Hannah Schuchert, an all-star defender last winter, is not only a lockdown player on that end of the ice, but is capable of scoring as well. Along with Schuchert, Yarmouth will rely on Driscoll and freshman Caitlin Costello to protect senior Caitlinn Cyr, who is new to the position.

The schedule eases somewhat over the next few weeks, so the Clippers will have a shot at earning some wins and gaining confidence. This program continues to head on an upward curve and will build on whatever success it can garner this year with even better seasons down the road.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” said second-year coach David Neujahr. “We’re still in a tough region. I’m confident in our team. Our goal is to go .500 and make the playoffs. We missed by three Heal Points last year. It’ll be tougher this year with our schedule.”

North Yarmouth Academy enters its second Prep season. The Panthers feature some very good athletes and a new coach, Elissa Popoff, who played defense at Tabor Academy, Williams College and for a year in Sweden. She’s spent the past three years as an assistant coach at Connecticut College and works in the athletic office at NYA. She’s optimistic about her team’s chances.

Any squad that features the sensational senior Courtney Dumont has to feel good. She’ll likely be involved in the lions’ share of the offense. Defense could be a strength behind senior Ashley Salerno, new junior Lauren Nawfel and freshman Molly Strabley. Sophomore Mariah Farrell returns in goal.

The Panthers have the athletes to keep up with many of the top-notch programs it will face over the next couple months. Expect them to show steady growth and to win their share of games.

“Coming in new this year, my expectations for the season surround growth and development,” Poppoff said. “I want to see a consistent upward progression. I clearly hope that this team will be very successful. My goals for the season are to establish a solid foundation that we can build upon for future years to create the strongest possible program.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]