OSWEGO — Much like their hundreds of shared bus trips through the years, the trio of Mackenzie Astle, Isabella Koproski and Kat Winchek are enjoying the journey on their last ride together for the Oswego High School girls varsity ice hockey team.
The senior captains have played as a collective unit on the same area youth teams since each was in fourth grade and are in the midst of their fourth varsity campaign together.
The Buccaneers entered the new year with a 2-3 overall record ahead of a critical stretch toward their hopes of contending in Section III Division I over the next several weeks.
“We played hockey growing up together, so we’re happy that we started our careers together and now we get to finish it leading the team together,” Wincheck said.
The trio described their leadership dynamic with Wincheck playing the “good cop,” and her fellow captains sharing the “bad cop,” role, all while holding back laughter as they laid out examples.
Astle said that through their near decade of sharing a locker room and converging on the ice every winter, the trio has developed a bond compared only to sisters, leading to occasional arguments but unwavering support.
“Going into this last season, it’s almost surreal, and we’re all so motivated together to play this senior season with each other,” Astle said. “Being able to do it with two of my best friends, leading a team together in the sport that we all absolutely love, just makes it all that much better.”
The triad competed in multiple state championships as part of the Oswego Minor Hockey Association, building their bond over long road trips to play at various regional rinks such as Lake Placid.
They cited those trips as some of their favorite memories surrounding the sport.
“They’ve been a good core and good leaders, good kids, students, hockey players, just all-around,” Oswego varsity coach Mark Fierro said. “The younger girls look up to them and as coaches we can lean on them to have them help us to get our messages across. They’ve been doing a good job with that.”
Oswego finished 0-6 in a condensed season due to COVID-19 concerns last year — fueling a renewed determination to contend now, according to the captains — and went 9-6-2 over its last full campaign in 2019-20.
Koproski noted a trickle-down effect of the captain connection with an improved on-ice chemistry throughout the team this year, believing the unit was in sync quicker and crisp with its passing to start the campaign.
“We just find each other on the ice, not like we ever have before, we just know that the other person is right there and that you can pass them the puck,” Koproski said. “It’s like we connect so much better than we have in years past.”
Oswego has been trying to overcome injuries to two of its top goal-scoring threats — juniors Isabelle Dobson and Mia Fierro — and relying on strong defense, goaltending, and efficient offense to compete as they approached the new year.
The Section 3 playoffs are slated to begin in mid-February.