Hartford parts with state champion girls hockey coach

From left, Hartford assistant coaches Jason Gramling and Karli Swensen, head coach Kylie Young, and players Aubree Vail (9) and Flynn Moreno (44) cheer after a goal by Zoe Zanleoni propels the team into the lead during the VPA D-II girls hockey championship game against Missisquoi at Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington, Vt., on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Hartford won, 5-3. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

From left, Hartford assistant coaches Jason Gramling and Karli Swensen, head coach Kylie Young, and players Aubree Vail (9) and Flynn Moreno (44) cheer after a goal by Zoe Zanleoni propels the team into the lead during the VPA D-II girls hockey championship game against Missisquoi at Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington, Vt., on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Hartford won, 5-3. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Alex Driehaus

Kylie Young, the new Hartford High girls hockey coach, hands eighth-grader Cordelia Durand a popcorn fundraising sheet before a workout at the school’s fitness center on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020 in White River Junction, Vt. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Kylie Young, the new Hartford High girls hockey coach, hands eighth-grader Cordelia Durand a popcorn fundraising sheet before a workout at the school’s fitness center on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020 in White River Junction, Vt. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news file photograph — Jennifer Hauck

Hartford girls hockey head coach Kylie Young, left, explains a drill to her players during a practice at Barwood Arena in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. The team, which lost to Middlebury in the quarterfinal round of VPA Division II girls hockey playoffs in February, has nine returning players and three who are brand new to the sport. Young said she expects this season’s team to be tight-knit, but with their wide array of skills they will have to work hard for their wins. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hartford girls hockey head coach Kylie Young, left, explains a drill to her players during a practice at Barwood Arena in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. The team, which lost to Middlebury in the quarterfinal round of VPA Division II girls hockey playoffs in February, has nine returning players and three who are brand new to the sport. Young said she expects this season’s team to be tight-knit, but with their wide array of skills they will have to work hard for their wins. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america file — Alex Driehaus

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-23-2024 4:52 PM

Modified: 05-23-2024 5:31 PM


WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — In April, fewer than two months after guiding the Hartford High girls ice hockey team to the first state title in its 30-year history, head coach Kylie Young was fired by athletic director Jeff Moreno.

Young, who worked on a year-to-year contract like most high school coaches, said Moreno gave no reason for her dismissal. The former Hurricanes star had recently completed her fourth year at the program’s helm. Hartford, 9-69-7 during the four seasons before Young’s hiring, was 58-24-1 under her leadership and twice reached the Division II final.

“It was a short meeting,” said Young, a former NCAA Division I player. “Jeff said, ‘I’m so glad you got to experience (the championship), and that’s what makes the second part of this so hard.’ ”

Moreno, who hired Young in 2020 and whose daughter played on the ice hockey team, declined comment.

Hartford High principal Nelson Fogg, the Hurricanes’ first-ever coach who also had Young on his teams, didn’t respond to an email.

Young said she believes some players and their parents were behind a push to have her let go. Young said there were complaints she was not sensitive enough to players’ concerns.

“I was coaching for the program, and they were hyper-focused on their own development and statistics,” Young said of the team.

Multiple parents with players on the championship team declined to comment when asked about Young’s coaching.

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The program is poised to lose its top returning defenders. Braelyn Park will enroll at Meriden’s Kimball Union Academy later this year, and fellow defenseman Carsyn Weglarz plans to attend the Holderness School near Plymouth, N.H.

Young was hired to save a program so poorly regarded that many hockey families actively sought other options for high school competition. The 2002 Hartford graduate had served nine years on the Upper Valley Youth Hockey Association’s board and had coached and refereed at the lower levels as well.

“Kylie was a very accomplished player with a no-nonsense approach, which makes her a real commodity for any team,” Moreno told the Valley News at the time she was hired.

Said Fogg: “To be able to speak in the first person about what … the expectation was for her and her teammates is really vital. It’s hard to know where you’re going if the person leading you hasn’t been there, and she has been.”

Young acknowledged she can be direct, brusque and all-business around the rink. However, she said her demeanor was a selling point following what were widely perceived to be the laissez-faire tenures of her immediate predecessors.

“I came in hearing from players that they wanted someone who’s a hard-ass and will push them,” Young said. “I wasn’t there to be a pushover, and I was going to coach girls not just the way they wanted to be coached, but to be successful.

“There were girls on my teams with zero motivation in getting better, and still, all we did was improve.”

Hartford jumped from four victories during Young’s first season to 19 during her second, when it lost in the state final. The Hurricanes were 12-9 and fell in the quarterfinals a year later before going 16-6-1 and winning the title this March.

The coach said feedback from parents, players and Moreno convinced her to try and become more open to player input during her last season. However, that change was at odds with pushing players in the way needed for the team to win games, she said.

“I was hard-edged to try and gain respect,” said Young, whose daughter played for her during the last four years. “But allowing for more input and changing the program made the lack of respect even more pronounced. Not just respect for me but for their teammates.”

The 2023-24 Hurricanes struggled behind the scenes, the coach said, a player was suspended for discipline issues at school. And they all mourned the January cancer death of Jeff Moreno’s wife, Kim, the mother of sophomore forward Flynn Moreno.

Young said Jeff Moreno told her during the season that her players didn’t appear to be having fun, but she said he didn’t provide more specific feedback and that trying to win games and managing seven assistants — including training staff — was difficult.

“To have cohesion on the team with 13 players and eight coaches was tough,” Kylie Young said. “I spent a lot of time trying to make sure everyone was on the same page. It felt I was set up to fail a bit in that regard.

Young said six of her former players have parents with youth hockey coaching experience and that she heard their complaints via Moreno or assistant coaches. Pushes for more stickhandling and skating development were common, along with suggestions for increased use of video review. Young ultimately determined her main focus would be on getting the Hurricanes to be cohesive, hard workers.

With a month to go in the season, Young said, she learned her players had met with Moreno to voice their displeasure with her coaching style. Young said soon after she apologized to the players for being too direct.

“I wanted them to understand I’m human and not perfect and that they could come to me,” she said.

The Hurricanes captured the title three weeks later and, within hours, were celebrating alongside the boys team, which won its own championship, the first since 2009.

With weeks to reflect on her dismissal, Young said she has two points she wants to make clear: There was no single episode or incident she is aware of that led to her exit, and she doesn’t think Hartford school administrators wanted to see her go. She believes the administrators felt they had to acquiesce to disgruntled players and parents.

“I didn’t (abuse) a player or any of those rumors that will come up over time,” Young said. “Nelson was like a second father to me throughout high school, and Jeff told me he had nothing bad to say about me as my boss, as a friend or as the father of one of my players.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.