The Stamford/Westill/Staples girls ice hockey team is in its third year of existence and has steadily made strides since losing its first contest 13-0 to Greenwich in 2011.

The optimism is as the trio of schools attempts to close the gap between them and the top teams in the FCIAC.

"We're not just losing 9-0, 10-0 to people," said head coach Eli Williams, who has nearly two decades of coaching experience. "We are competing with teams now and it's really nice to see."

In its second season as a co-op with Stamford and Westhill, Staples has 10 players -- making up roughly half the roster -- on the team including two seniors: goalie Casey Bang and defender Kelly Gurahian. Gurahian switched to defense after the team lost one of its most important defenders to a season-ending injury.

"(Gurhain) has been tremendous," Williams said. "Her leadership ability, seeing the ice, playing the game and being physical. The two of them have been outstanding and get better game in and game out.

After dropping its opener 9-2 to Ridgefield, Stamford came very close to defeating West Haven for the third straight season. Despite leading 5-1 in the first period, Stamford fell 8-6 to the Westies at Terry Conners Rink Friday.

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"I was really upset," Bang said. "I was expecting it to be a win, I think we might have slacked off a bit when we went up 5-1 thinking we had it in the bag. All of a sudden they got us."

Many of the players are low on experience when they enter the varsity program, including Bang, who didn't know how to skate until trying out for the starting goalie job last season. After earning All-FCIAC honorable mention last season, Bang has continued to improve during the offseason.

"(Bang) has been stellar, she's done a great job in the offseason at improving her game," Williams said. "She's working as hard as she can and is great to have."

The team is led by junior forward Cassie Miolene of Westhill. Staples junior forward Meg Fay is one of the team's top offensive threats and the duo combines to form a potent threat capable of scoring on any team.

"(Miolene) is unbelievable," Williams said. "Her and Meg Fay are two of the most underrated forwards in the FCIAC and the state. For what they do game in and game out; the minutes they see and goals they score for us."

The team graduated valuable players Sam Jaykus and Jess Blasnik last season but a strong freshman class that includes Claire Perry, Kit Eptsein and Emily Porter provides hope for the future.

"It's been a little difficult because we lost some good players from last year," Bang said. "But easier because we found some new players and I think we are starting to get used to each other; playing with each other. The team is always fun to be around."

Williams sees progress with each practice and game and believes wins are right around the corner. The team won one game in 2012 and two games last season.

"All of the girls are getting better and they are starting to get on the same page," Williams said. "It's tough coming from three different schools and to ask them all to get on the same page and to become a team. We're only three years old but I give them all of the credit in the world for coming together."