Author: Matt Gajtka

Twelve Players with BK Selects Connections on Track to Compete in USHL

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — With the conclusion of the 2023 USHL Draft on the first week of May, 10 players with BK Selects connections — past, present or future — are now in line to play in America’s top junior league.

“Seeing 10 players with BK Selects connections poised to play in the top junior league in the United States is a testament to the dedication and talent within our organization,” said BK Selects Director of Boys Hockey Chris Collins. “We are incredibly proud of their achievements and the opportunities they have earned.”

In addition to that, two current BK Selects in 15O goalie Patrick Quinlan (Kennett Square, Pa.) and 15O forward Jack Murtagh (East Greenbush, N.Y.) were selected to compete for the prestigious U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 team, which competes primarily in the USHL.

These developments raise the total to 12 BK Selects who are now on track to chase their dreams in the highest level of junior hockey the country has to offer.

“Having two of our current players selected for the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 team reflects the caliber of players we have in our ranks,” Collins said. “These accomplishments highlight our commitment to nurturing young athletes and providing them with the platform to chase their dreams in the highest echelons of junior hockey.

“It’s an exciting time for the BK Selects, and we are thrilled to be a part of their journey.”

Quinlan and Murtagh will join former BK standout Christian Humphreys (Pittsburgh, Pa. / Michigan State University) with the U.S. NTDP. Last year, Humphreys became the first BK player to be selected by the 26-year-old NTDP, which has produced 19 top-five NHL draft picks all-time, including five No. 1 overall selections.

As for the BK players picked in the USHL Draft, 15O forward Cooper Dennis (Ithaca, N.Y.) started the parade when he was selected in the second round (17th overall) of Phase I by the Dubuque (Iowa) Fighting Saints. 16U forward Chase Jette (Ithaca, N.Y.) went next, to the Waterloo (Iowa) Black Hawks in the third round.

Defender Shayne Gould (Princeton, Mass.) was chosen by the Chicago Steel in the fourth round, followed by incoming 16U forward Henry Major (Skaneateles, N.Y.), also to the Steel in Round 5. Incoming goalie Samuel Doyon-Cataquiz (Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec) rounded out Phase I by going to the Muskegon (Mich.) Lumberjacks

Phase II of the USHL Draft started with BK Selects alumnus Hans Ulvebne (Oslo, Norway) going to Chicago in the fourth round. The Bemidji State University commit followed up two seasons in Rochester with a solid campaign for the NAHL’s Corpus Christi (Texas) Ice Rays.

Two-year BK defenseman and former captain Jack Henry (Skaneateles, N.Y. / Yale University) parlayed a strong season with the BCHL’s Cranbrook Bucks with a sixth-round selection by the Madison (Wisc.) Capitols. His Cranbrook teammate Nick Peluso (Rochester, N.Y. / University of Maine) went to the Tri-City (Neb.) Storm three rounds later, cashing in a 41-point performance this season in his junior debut.

16U forward Eric Whitelaw (North Easton, Mass.) heard his name in the 21st round of Phase II, as Muskegon claimed the 20-point man. Defender Mitchell Kneidel (Columbus, Ohio / Dartmouth College) has stood tall on the BK Selects blue line for three seasons, leading to his 22nd-round selection by the Green Bay (Wisc.) Gamblers.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

(Top photo: Jack Murtagh carries the puck in regular-season action. Credit: Christina Colontino / BK Selects)

BK Selects Alumni Help Push USA to Women’s World Championship Gold

by Matt Gajtka

BRAMPTON, Ontario — With three BK Selects alumni on board, the United States women’s national team won its first World Championship gold in four years, rallying past fellow superpower Canada, 6-3, on Sunday night.

Former BK Selects standout defender Caroline ‘K.K.’ Harvey led the tournament with 14 points (four goals, 10 assists), highlighted by the tying goal early in the third period and the primary assist on USA captain Hilary Knight’s insurance marker in the final minutes of regulation.

The 20-year-old Harvey played for BK Selects from 2016 through 2020 before moving on to the University of Wisconsin, where she just put up 39 points in 41 games and won the NCAA national championship in her first season on campus.

“Winning gold honestly ranks pretty closely with winning the NCAA title this year,” Harvey said. “Both were unbelievable, but different experiences, and both so sweet to be able to achieve. I definitely want to be doing both again.”

Joining Harvey on the victorious team USA was fellow defender Haley Winn (BK Selects from 2017-21) and assistant coach Brent Hill, who headed up the BK Selects 19U team from 2017-21.

“The first thing (about it) is just feeling fortunate and grateful to be a part of hockey at that level,” said Hill, who has also coached at USA Hockey national team camps and was an assistant for the Rivalry Series games against Canada earlier this season.

“Winning on that stage really puts it in perspective. From there, knowing we had the best possible roster and game plan in place to be successful, and knowing all the hard work leading up to the event and during the event paid off.”

Haley Winn, Brent Hill and Caroline Harvey pose with their Women’s Worlds medals. (SUBMITTED)

Winn, a Rochester native, recorded five assists in her first seven World Championship games. She just completed her sophomore season at Clarkson University, where she scored 23 points in 38 games and sported a plus-20 rating.

“It’s just been such a cool experience,” said Winn, who played in the Rivalry Series last fall as her first senior-level international competition.

“Getting to play against the best female players in the world is something I still struggle to wrap my head around. It’s also such a privilege to be able to learn from these players, not only on the ice, but off the ice as well. How they carry themselves and are so professional about what they do. The women’s game has also grown so much and that has been awesome to see.”

The 19-year-old Winn had been in the player pool for a couple of years, then impressed head coach John Wroblewski and staff enough at World Championship tryouts to be the second-youngest player named to the United States roster — for reference, that’s 14 years younger than team captain and hockey legend Knight.

“I just trusted my training and the work I have put in for so many years,” Winn said. “I knew my time would come and I just had to trust that and trust my faith. At tryout I just played my game and tried remaining confident throughout. … It was really nice to have a few familiar faces on the team.”

As for Harvey, her performance was spectacular, but it wasn’t exactly a surprise.

On top of her Olympic experience last winter, this was the New Hampshire native’s third consecutive Women’s Worlds. Harvey chipped in eight points (three goals, five assists) in last fall’s silver-medal effort in Denmark, a performance she said fed nicely into the start of her first NCAA season.

“I felt more comfortable this time around for sure,” Harvey said. “I felt like I belonged and fit in with the girls, which definitely contributed to me feeling more relaxed on the ice and playing the game I wanted to play.

“Coming off of last year’s Worlds right into the season definitely put me into a good spot. I felt confident in helping other teammates, sharing my experience, and leading. Having that confidence helped me try new things and continue to work at becoming better at my craft, and striving to want to be my best teammate I could all year.”

Hill has coached Harvey at BK Selects and on the international stage, giving him a deep appreciation for how she’s grown her abilities and where she might go from here.

“She’s a rising star,” Hill said. “There’s no limit on what she’ll be able to achieve in her career. She is someone who younger players should be modeling — in regards to skill, stride, speed and athleticism — if they have goals to reach the national team level.”

BK alum Jule Schiefer carries the puck during the 2023 Women’s Worlds. (IIHF)

While the USA reversed the result of last year’s gold-medal game, Czechia repeated its bronze showing of 2022 — the nation’s first-ever medal in six Women’s Worlds appearances — with another third-place performance this time around.

Although she didn’t see game action, current BK Selects 19U goalie Michaela Hesova (Hovorčovice, Czechia / Dartmouth College) made the roster on a senior national team for the first time.

Germany also continued to lift its women’s hockey reputation, making it to the quarterfinals and winning three times in total — the most victories the country had ever claimed in a World Championship. Former BK forwards Nina Christof (2018-22) and Jule Schiefer (2019-20) each played in all six games.

But, as usual, it all came down to the United States versus Canada for the title.

Playing in front of a friendly crowd at the CAA Centre and — counting the 2022 Olympics — trying to make it five straight senior-level gold medals, the Canadian team pushed out to three separate one-goal leads.

However, the United States controlled the third period, starting with Harvey’s equalizer and ending with Cayla Barnes’ empty-netter.

“I was just in shock,” Winn said of the final moments. “I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. When we got the empty-netter, I had so many emotions, tears of joy for sure.

“I had just had that dream for so long and it was such a surreal moment to be a part of.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

(Top photo credit: IIHF)

BK Selects Girls Collect Wins at Nationals, But Miss on Biggest Prize

by Matt Gajtka

DALLAS — Neither the 19Us or the 16Us climbed the mountain last weekend at the USA Hockey Nationals, but their results deep in the heart of Texas nevertheless reveal a BK Selects girls program that remains among the nation’s best.

The older group, ranked second in the country entering the tournament, made the deeper run of the two BK squads, highlighted by a 4-3 overtime victory Sunday over 2022 national champ Detroit Little Caesars in the quarterfinal round.

The fact that the second-seeded 19Us — who were missing a handful of players due to injury — were edged by the third-seeded Philadelphia Jr. Flyers in a semifinal tilt later that night didn’t obscure one of the best seasons in the history of the program.

“We can say, at the end of the tournament, we left it all on the ice,” Bishop Kearney VP of Hockey/19Us Head Coach Paul Colontino said. “Would we have liked to have done a bit better? Sure, but the team did well and we had some gutsy wins.

“It’s a great season, but when you have only one goal in mind, that’s when you have to be careful to see the big picture.”

Even if they couldn’t capture the first girls national crown for BK, Colontino’s squad compiled an overall record of 49-8-6, including an utterly dominant New York state championship and a first-place banner at the highly-competitive Labor Day Girls Fest.

Two departing seniors in Bella Vasseur (Waitsfield, Vt. / University of Wisconsin) and Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla.) tied for the team scoring lead at Nationals, with each notching 10 points in five games. Compton scored six goals to pace the 19Us, including the OT winner against Little Caesars. Vasseur doled out seven assists, with three coming on a power play that converted six times in the tournament.

Graduating goalie Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa. / University of Wisconsin) also sparkled in her final youth action, posting a .935 save percentage and a pair of shutouts in five starts. Defenders Brooke George (East Montpelier, Vt. / University of Vermont) and Molly Jordan (Berlin, Conn. / Boston College) went out on a high, too, contributing seven and six points, respectively.

Jordan’s power-play goal with two minutes left in Sunday’s quarterfinal sent that game to overtime, where the 19Us outshot Little Caesars 13-6 to reverse the trend of the three regulation periods.

“It was an absolute roller-coaster of a game,” Colontino said. “Anytime you get those playoff overtime wins, there’s something extra that comes with that. Each team took control of the game at different points. I thought we flipped it in OT and generated a lot of great opportunities.”

In the semifinal, played on just a few hours’ rest, BK had a chance to grab an 1-0 lead on Philadelphia, but a quick whistle scuttled an early scoring chance. Instead, the Jr. Flyers netted a pair before the first intermission. Second-period goals by defender Ashley Mandeville (Pascoag, R.I. / Mercyhurst University) and Compton cut the margin to 3-2, but BK couldn’t draw even in the third.

“We started out great,” Colontino said. “We felt confident that we had a chance.”

Addison Tremel led the 16Us with two goals at Nationals. (Christina Colontino/BK Selects)

As for the 16Us, their Nationals experience ended earlier than they expected, as they were eliminated after round-robin play with a 1-2 record.

They opened their tournament last Thursday with a showdown against Mid Fairfield (Conn.) Stars, falling 6-1 to the team that would go on to win the national title three days later.

It didn’t get any easier the next day, when head coach Jake Anderson’s team had to face top-seeded Minnesota Elite. Although BK Selects performed admirably in holding Minnesota to 22 shots on goal, they couldn’t finish any of their 20 shots and lost, 2-0.

“The first game is so important and we just didn’t play our best,” Anderson said. “The next day (against Minnesota) we played well, but just couldn’t score. It was a tough draw, and we take some solace from that, but it was a tough week.”

But while they knew they would not be advancing to the single-elimination quarterfinals, the Selects rebounded with a 4-1 win over hometown Dallas Stars Elite to close their Texas trip. Addison Tremel (Newcastle, Wash.) scored at even strength and short-handed, while Payton Palsa (Annapolis, Md.) and defender Lucie Tenenbaum (Redwood City, Calif.) recorded two points each.

The 16Us went 44-13-6 on the season, highlighted by an emotional triumph in the New York state tournament last month.

“I’m really happy with the year overall,” Anderson concluded. “In my opinion, we had a lot of kids get better, which is the primary goal of the program.

“Hopefully some of the hard lessons that we faced will be learned. The coaching side is what I’ll be thinking about over the summer, how to help the team play their best at the end of the season.”

Anderson noted that some of those lessons could’ve been learned second-hand, as the 16Us shifted from competitive mode to the biggest fans of the 19Us.

“Those games were incredible,” Anderson said. “That older group had a lot of adversity and perseverance and they still played their best. Hopefully our girls saw that and understand and look up to that.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

(Top photo: Peyton Compton maneuvers for a shot. Credit: Christina Colontino/BK Selects)

Repeat the Feat: BK Selects 14U Boys Deliver National Title Double

by Matt Gajtka

PLYMOUTH, Mich. — For BK Selects players, staff and supporters, the scene was awfully familiar.

And that was a very good thing.

Just like last year, a BK boys team, coached by a man with the last name Collins, was defending a late lead in a USA Hockey national championship game in a southeastern Michigan rink.

And just like last year, the Selects delivered.

This time, instead of Dan Collins’ 16Us prevailing over the Long Island Gulls in Rochester, Mich., it was Greg Collins’ 14Us holding off the Chicago Mission, 2-1, at midday Monday on the other end of the Detroit metro area.

Turned out the déjà vu was legit.

For the second straight spring, a BK Selects team had won a national title.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” Collins said a couple hours after his guys lifted the coveted golden plate. “It’s rewarding to see the boys pull through.

“It was an exciting, cool way to finish it out. The players bought in and they performed.”

On the home ice of the storied USA Hockey National Team Development Program, the youngest of the four BK boys squads showcased some significant talent of their own, outscoring their six opponents at Nationals by a combined total of 19-7.

But as Collins alluded to, it wasn’t as routine as the final stat sheet looked.

After the 14Us comfortably claimed their first two games in Plymouth, Chicago Mission beat them on Friday in the round-robin finale, by the same 2-1 score as the final.

That meant BK Selects had to face No. 1-seeded Shattuck St. Mary’s in a quarterfinal game that would require overtime. During a sudden-death power play, Dain Gordon (Denver, Colo.) swept in the rebound of a Cameron Chartrand (Montréal, Québec) blast to send the boys in black through to the semifinals.

After prevailing against one of the perennial premier programs in the nation — SSM had lost just three games all year — the seventh-ranked BK Selects 14Us (64-16-3) had some serious wind in their sails.

“Shattuck had beaten us up earlier in the year,” Collins said, recalling a three-game weekend sweep at the hands of SSM. “But we had a good feeling going into the game and the boys just rallied.”

This group had gotten used to persevering. The 14Us were forced to ice a smaller roster in the early part of the year, due to players leaving the program. Following that, they had to assimilate new skaters on the fly while taking on the usual highly-competitive schedule.

Despite this, the group won the USHL American Cup in December and followed it up with a commanding performance in the New York state tourney last month. They were undeniably rolling as they prepared for Nationals with an increased focus on togetherness.

“Just the mental preparation the boys had, we came into the tournament with confidence and all battled together as a team,” said Gordon, who finished Nationals with two goals and assisted on the title-winning tally.

“In the weeks before Nationals, we started to believe in the team’s capabilities more and just came to Nationals with great energy.”

In the semis, BK trailed the Boston Jr. Eagles 1-0 midway through before scoring four straight to secure a rematch with the Mission. For the fourth time in six games, the opponent netted the first goal, but defender Josh Henry (Middle Sackville, Nova Scotia) tied it quickly with a second-period point shot.

In the third — where the Selects boasted a 7-1 goal differential in the tourney — Rudolfs Berzkalns (Cesis, Latvia) polished off a rebound for his team-best sixth goal of the tournament, giving BK its only lead of the day with 15 minutes to go.

Gavin Weeks (center) and Rudolfs Berzkalns stood out at Nationals. (CHRISTINA COLONTINO/BK SELECTS)

Incredibly, BK goalie Gavin Weeks (Goffstown, N.H.) had to stop just one shot on target the rest of the way, capping a stalwart Nationals performance in which he allowed just seven goals in six games. The lone netminder on the 14U roster said some thoughts of the finish line popped into his head late in the championship, but the urgency of the moment was too great to get distracted.

“It was hard to believe that it was actually happening,” said Weeks, whose .947 save percentage was best in the 16-team tourney. “But it wasn’t hard to focus because the final buzzer didn’t go off yet.”

With under a minute to play, Chicago called its timeout, allowing Collins and his assistant Ben McManama to give their group a final set of instructions.

“They told us a strategy to lock it down,” said defender Dave O’Brien (Weymouth, Mass.). “Coach Collins fired us up and said, ‘Forty seconds to become national champions,’ and we all felt and played like it was.

“We were relentless on every puck (in the tournament). We battled hard. If we were down a goal, we didn’t give up. We believed in God and we believed we could beat all the best teams.”

Adding to that belief was a special message from 16U coach Dan Collins, who video-chatted with the players before the championship game for a little more inspiration. Specifically, he relayed what it was like to claim BK Selects’ first-ever USA Hockey crown almost exactly one year prior.

“It’s what you want and it’s what we’re achieving,” said Greg Collins (no relation), who joined the staff last summer. “We’re trying to bring in a successful culture. I’m just pumped to be part of a good staff that buys into the same stuff, and hopefully when the players arrive, they buy in, too.”

For a team that essentially functions as the BK Selects’ entry level, to have this particular group climb this particular mountain can only bode well for the continued growth of the boys program, which just completed its third season of competition.

(Similar things can be said for the 15Os, who ended the season ranked fifth in the nation and made it to the national quarterfinals in New Jersey, and the seventh-ranked 16Us, whose bid for a repeat ended in the Nationals round robin in San Jose.)

Of course, all that long-term stuff appropriately flies out the window in the heat of the championship moment. When that tension finally breaks, the enormity of the accomplishment sets in.

“I remember seeing everyone smiling and crying,” Weeks said, recalling the immediate aftermath of another BK crown.

“We, as a family, won the national championship.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

BK Selects 19U Girls Take Inspiration from Alums’ Run to NCAA Title

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — “The hay is in the barn.”

That’s how BK Selects 19U forward Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont. / University of Wisconsin) described the feeling as the No. 2-ranked team in the country enters final preparations for the upcoming USA Hockey Nationals, to take place March 30-April 3 in greater Dallas.

In other words, there’s little use for cramming this time of the year. If you’ve put in the work throughout the course of the season, it’ll show when the puck is dropped.

If not … well, that’ll show, too.

But, that’s not to say there isn’t time for a little more fuel in the ol’ inspiration tank.

Fortunately, the 19Us (and the 16Us, for that matter) had a wonderful opportunity to get a vicarious uplift as they watched three former BK players lift the NCAA Division I national championship trophy. Behind an early goal from BK alum Kirsten Simms, the University of Wisconsin defeated defending champion Ohio State University last week, 1-0, in the culmination of the Frozen Four.

Not only did Simms (at BK from 2018-20), Laila Edwards (2018-22) and Caroline ‘K.K.’ Harvey (2016-20) all play significant roles for the victorious Badgers, Ohio State’s Lauren Bernard (2018-19) and Minnesota’s Emma Conner (2016-19) also played on Frozen Four teams this year.

“Watching that was insane,” said BK Selects senior forward Bella Vasseur (Waitsfield, Vt.), one of three Wisconsin commits on the 19U team. “Seeing girls that I know and have played with perform and do huge things on the big stage was surreal. I think seeing them win, being the underdogs, cemented in my head that anything is possible (at Nationals).”

Certainly, it didn’t take a miracle for Wisconsin — now seven-time national champs — to defeat fellow D-I titan Ohio State in a winner-take-all showdown, but the fact is that hockey includes more variability than most team sports, so a player must be prepared for something to go wrong.

Add in the pressure of a big spot, whether it be the USA Hockey Nationals or the NCAA Frozen Four, and there’s a lot of emotion that has to be managed.

Certainly Harvey, who not only has played in five international competitions for Team USA, but also scored the overtime winner in Wisconsin’s semifinal victory over rival Minnesota, would have some insight on the matter.

“What matters is the next shift ahead and doing my job to the best of my ability to help my teammates and my team,” Harvey said. “Thinking ahead of what’s on the line, playing for the title or a medal, only makes me more nervous, so i’ve learned to be more present in big moments and focus on the next shift.”

Simms, who roared into college hockey with 16 goals and 16 assists as a first-year forward, said her training at BK Selects helped give her a foundation to contribute greatly to a national championship.

“It keeps you disciplined and consistent,” Simms said. “The work habits of doing extra outside of just practices and lifts, as well as staying focused and driven on always trying to improve my game day to day.”

For Edwards, the MVP for Team USA at the 2022 Women’s Under-18 World Championship, posting 13 goals and 27 total points as a freshman wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it did reinforce the constructive habits she established prior to her arrival in Madison.

“I think any young players could learn to just trust the process,” Edwards said. “It sounds cliche but it’s a great motto that I reminded myself of every day (this season).

“There will be plenty of ups and downs in your careers, but learn from them. I learned from all of mine and have reason to believe it is a big reason for the success I had this year as a freshman.”

Edwards had plenty of Nationals experience at BK, which certainly helped at the next level. Current 19U goalie and Wisconsin commit Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa.) has made it to this stage in each of her previous three seasons, so she’s aiming to build on that in her effort to clinch the first girls national crown in program history.

“Knowing what the national tournament entails brings peace of mind to me personally,” said McNaughton, who also suited up for Team USA at last year’s U-18 Worlds. “I know that I am more than capable of playing at this level, so all that I am looking to do is to play my best hockey and give my team the best goaltending I am capable of.”

She’s also not ignorant of the fact that there are ambitious expectations for the 19Us in particular, considering how the program has grown over the past several years.

“One of the hardest components of Nationals is the outside pressure that others have put on us, as people have said our team is going to win from the start,” McNaughton said. “I think that just sticking to our family and our team inside our locker room is key to us making a run at a national championship.”

As for McCarthy, who said she was already proud of the Wisconsin win even before stepping on campus as a student, she asserted that the 19Us are on an “upward trend” lately — and that applies as much away from game action as it does between the whistles.

With a full three weeks separating a dominant run through the New York state tournament from the start of Nationals, the 19Us have no choice but to dig within themselves to keep the winning momentum going.

“Our practices have been upbeat and we have had everyone going,” McCarthy said. “Knowing that three of the NCAA national champion team members where once sitting here in our shoes at BK is reassurance that we have the tools to be the best we can be here.”

To put it another way, the hay is largely in the barn, but there’s still plenty of hard work ahead.

“I’d say that anything can happen at Nationals,” Vasseur said. “But we are definitely a team that other teams are focusing on to beat. Every team we play is going to give us their best.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

(Top photo: K.K. Harvey, Kirsten Simms and Laila Edwards pose with the NCAA D-I national championship trophy. Credit: Cari Coen/BK Selects)

BK Selects 14Us Dominate States, Leading Three Boys Teams Into Nationals

by Matt Gajtka

BUFFALO, N.Y. — They didn’t need to do it, but they went ahead and did it anyway.

By merit of its top-10 ranking in the country, the Bishop Kearney Selects 14U boys team was almost certainly headed to the USA Hockey Nationals regardless of what it did last weekend at the New York state tournament.

But the 14Us left no doubt, blitzing through Buffalo with a 5-0 record and a 30-8 goal differential, blazing the trail to Nationals for the BK Selects boys program.

“That was probably our best performance of the season so far,” said forward Massimo Santa Maria (Buffalo, N.Y.), who scored three goals and added two assists on the weekend, continuing his strong performance as an underage, 2009 birth-year player.

The youngest BK Selects team capped its clean sweep Sunday with a 6-2 victory over Clifton Park Dynamo in the Empire State title game, improving to 58-16-3 on the season.

On Wednesday, the 15O and 16U teams also joined the Nationals party via at-large bids, spots justly awarded based on outstanding regular seasons. The 15Os (51-13-7) were ranked fourth in their USA Hockey age group and the 16Us (43-17-3) were ranked seventh, via My Hockey Rankings.

While the ultimate goal for every BK Selects team is to compete for a national championship — a goal successfully completed last spring by the 16U squad — the New York tournament is a reliable litmus test, with programs like the Long Island Gulls and Buffalo Jr. Sabres providing a consistently high level of competition.

“We put a lot of emphasis on states,” said 14U Head Coach Greg Collins, echoing the approach of the program on the whole. “A lot of emphasis on playoff games, in general. Most teams we were playing against (last weekend), they had to win states to move on, so the two weeks before we worked on putting the mindset together, details and habits.”

Despite the desperation of their opponents, the 14Us clearly proved themselves to be New York’s finest, defeating every foe by at least four goals.

Tourney-leading offensive outputs by Canadian-born Austin Brekelmans and the DMV’s Camden Nimmer (four goals, three assists apiece) paced the attack, while goalie Gavin Weeks (Goffstown, N.H.) posted a .929 save percentage while continuing his crucial role as the lone netminder on the roster.

“While I think I’ve handled the workload well, I still think I could have done better,” Weeks said. “But that’s where you learn. Overall, I think the team played great and I’m excited to see what we have for this last push.”

Gavin Weeks has had the 14U solo goal duties since the fall. (CHRISTINA COLONTINO/BK SELECTS)

Ditto for the 15O and 16U teams, who can take solace in the knowledge that last year’s 16U squad was the only BK Selects boys team to not win New York in ’22, yet they went on to clinch to first national championship in program history.

This time around, 16U Head Coach Dan Collins is feeling a similar vibe in at least a couple of ways, even if he also knows there’s no guarantee it translates to the same glorious result.

“Right now, we’re getting a lot of the same feelings,” Collins said. “Feeling we can be better than we have been and feeling thankful to still have another opportunity to play together.”

Like many of the BK Selects — coaches and players alike — Dan Collins credits his team’s participation in Northeast Pack events throughout the year for toughening the squad ahead of high-leverage games this time of year.

“With those (Northeast Pack) weekends and battles all year, against some of the best teams in the country, that’s something we lean on as experience and preparation going into Nationals,” he said.

The 15Os came closest to joining the 14Us in the New York winner’s circle, getting all the way to the championship game before falling, 2-1, to the Long Island Gulls. BK Selects forward Cooper Dennis (Ithaca, N.Y.) paced all players in the tourney in assists (eight) and total points (13).

Meanwhile, both the 16Us and 18Us also fell to the Gulls in the semis of their respective state tournaments. But while the 16Us had a likely at-large Nationals bid as a fallback, the 14th-ranked 18Us had to win New York to extend their season.

Even though the 18Us (34-28-4) were knocked out before the championship, they still featured three of the top five scorers in their age group — led by Ryan Bunting’s (West Deptford, N.J.) four goals and three assists in four games. Grant DeNuccio (Leesburg, Va.) scored four and helped on two others, while Mikey Bartkowski (Fort Mills, S.C.) also lit the lamp four times.

In the 16U New York bracket, Geno Carcone (Woodstock, Ga.) led all BK skaters with nine points, and his seven assists were the second-most in the tournament. Nate Delladonna (Brewerton, N.Y.) notched four goals to help the squad, including two in the semi loss to Long Island; BK led 3-1 early in the second before the Gulls scored the final five goals of the game.

Fortunately, that won’t be the last time Dan Collins’ group takes the ice this season. Once again, the BK boys will have multiple shots at a national crown.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

Top photo: Camden Nimmer hunts on the forecheck. Credit: Christina Colontino/BK Selects

BK Selects 16U Girls Take States, Barge into Nationals on Mayer’s OT Goal

by Matt Gajtka

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The puck went in. The celebration was nearly complete. BK Selects had taken a 3-2 lead with less than three minutes to go in the New York 16U girls state championship game.

Except, they hadn’t. Not according to one of the referees, who ruled the Amherst Knights’ net had been dislodged prior to the goal.

Considering all that was on the line — not only the state title, but also an automatic spot in Nationals at the end of March — that dramatic moment could have easily broken the spirit of the BK Selects.

Instead, the controversial official’s decision seemed to spur them on, as they surged to a 15-1 advantage in shots on goal the rest of the way, capped by the game-winning goal off the stick of Rae Mayer (Chesapeake, Va.) eight minutes into sudden-death overtime.

“It could’ve gone the other way, but we found another gear,” 16U Head Coach Jake Anderson said. “We took that information (disallowed goal) and moved on. We knew we had this. That’s the moment when I was like, ‘OK, we’re onto something here.’

“That’s the proudest moment you could have as a coach.”

And it’s the happiest moment you could have as a player.

“Honestly, words can’t describe it,” Mayer said. “The energy in the rink was unbelievable and really shows people how much of a family we really are.

“Obviously scoring the OT goal was awesome, but at the end of the day it was a team effort and we did it as a team.”

As is audible on the above embedded video, the BK Selects 19U girls team was stationed right behind the glass for Mayer’s season-extending goal, ready to celebrate their younger cohort joining them in the USA Hockey Nationals, set for March 30-April 3 in the greater Dallas area.

The 19Us — ranked No. 2 nationally — clinched New York themselves with convincing wins of 8-0 over Rome Grizzlies and 11-0 against Buffalo Regals on Saturday, leaving the drama to the 16Us on Sunday, albeit not without significant rooting support.

“The 19U team was absolutely amazing and helped keep the energy up throughout the whole (16U championship) game,” Mayer said, “which I think also helped a lot.”

The 16U team poses after winning the state, with the 19Us behind the glass. (Christina Colontino/BK Selects)

On top of the late disallowed goal, the 16Us had more reasons to be frustrated near the end of the title tilt.

They outshot Amherst 44-24 through regulation, but Knights goalie Brynn Bacak had matched BK netminder Emeline Grennan (Washington, D.C.) save for save. Still, the Selects carried a 2-1 lead into the final five minutes of the third on goals by Paige Wallace (Huntington, N.Y.) and Megan Meola (Long Valley, N.J.), but a disputed offensive-zone penalty called on BK led to the Amherst equalizer with 3:53 left on the clock.

“It was basically a home game for Amherst,” Anderson said. “When they tied the game, the roof almost came off the place. I felt like if we could’ve gotten that third goal (in regulation), we would’ve scored five or six, but they made it 2-2 and things got crazy.”

But not crazy enough to keep the 16Us from the outcome they worked so hard (and so well) to achieve. And when BK forced a turnover in the neutral zone eight minutes into OT and pushed the puck back up ice one more time, they were rewarded for their efforts.

“Obviously (the disallowed goal) took us all by surprise,” Mayer said. “I think at first, the team was definitely upset about the call but we were able to come back together, realize the moment we were in, and realize the job we had a job to finish.”

Mayer’s sudden-death strike culminated a tense weekend for the 16Us, who knew their No. 11 ranking in USA Hockey wasn’t likely to grant them an at-large bid to Nationals if they didn’t first raise a victory flag at the New York state tourney.

Given that pressure, it would’ve been easy for individual players to take too much upon themselves to be the primary difference-maker. Nevertheless, they took care of the Syracuse Valley Eagles (6-0) and Amherst (5-2) on Saturday, then edged Rome 2-1 on Sunday morning to clinch a return date with Amherst with everything on the line.

“What impressed me most was how we all came together and worked together, even in moments when people could have tried to do it themselves,” said Morgan Walton (Geneseo, N.Y.). “We all had enough discipline to trust everyone and use everyone on the ice to make the right plays.”

Walton admitted she felt the pressure heading into the state tournament, but she didn’t think that was a negative.

“I think knowing that if we would’ve lost, we wouldn’t have made Nationals made me a better player,” she said. “I had to be at my best level to make sure we achieved the right outcome.”

The next challenge will be for both BK Selects girls teams to both recover for the heightened intensity of Nationals and also maintain the edge they’ve sharpened over the course of several months.

For example, the 16Us showed exactly how important conditioning is when — at the end of a draining weekend — they had enough left in the tank to control play against a team just as hungry for a victory as they were.

“We talk about from the first day that conditioning isn’t going to be a variable,” Anderson said. “They put in so much work. We push them when they don’t want to be pushed.

“(The championship game) turned into just a matter of time. Their team couldn’t do it anymore. They had fallen off the edge a little bit. We maintained our pace for longer. Their goalie made a lot of saves, some spectacular, but the conditioning is what got us through.”

In other words, all that sweat they’ve shed since the start of the season was in preparation for this time of year. It’s time to trust that investment and deliver.

“We work everyday and do things that most programs aren’t doing,” Mayer said. “We take pride in the little things and at the end of the day that’s what’s going to win us games. We love playing good teams and are super-excited to see the competition (at Nationals).

“I think we’re prepared.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

(Top photo: Bella Fanale [left] and Emeline Grennan celebrate with the New York 16U banner. Credit: Christina Colontino/BK Selects)

NE Pack Playoffs Give BK Selects Boys Ideal Late-Season Runway

by Matt Gajtka

NORTHFORD, Conn. — No doubt about it: The NE Pack playoffs kicked things up a notch for the four BK Selects boys teams.

And, with the New York state tournament looming next month, that step-up in intensity arrived at just the right time.

“They’re meaningful games,” said 15O head coach Shayne Stockton. “You feel it on the ice as a player and you feel it on the bench as a coach. From here on out, they’re playoff games.”

At the Northford Ice Pavilion last weekend, the season-long NE Pack titles in four age groups — 14U, 15O, 16U and 18U — were up for grabs . Five teams competed for the championships in the two older divisions, with Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, RI Saint M’s, New Jersey Rockets and host Long Island Gulls joining BK Selects in those. Six teams squared off in the two younger divisions, with the Mid Fairfield Jr. Rangers included in those brackets.

While none of the BK Selects teams took home a banner, the 16Us and 14Us both reached their respective championship games, with the 15Os falling in the semis and the 18Us losing in overtime in a play-in game.

“I really liked how everyone bought in to what the coaches were telling us to do.” said 16U forward Nate Delladonna (Brewerton, N.Y.). “Obviously we didn’t have the outcome we wanted in the end, but it was still great to see everyone working hard and fighting for each other.”

The 16Us, ranked fourth in the nation per MyHockeyRankings and boasting a 38-15-3 record, were just a couple of shots away from downing the No. 3-ranked New Jersey Rockets in the title game, falling 5-4 in a shootout. That came on the heels of a 4-3 overtime triumph over the second-ranked Long Island Gulls in the semifinal round.

The win over Long Island was revenge for a 3-1 defeat to the Gulls in round-robin play the day before. In the semi, Geno Carcone (Woodstock, Ga.) notched the game-winning OT goal, following up Delladonna’s late equalizer.

16U head coach Dan Collins lamented that his squad conceded a couple of goals late in periods in the title tilt against New Jersey, while also commending his players for their progress over the course of the season.

“Couple things didn’t go our way, but we learn a lot from it,” Collins said. “We’ve come such a long way, though. Really proud of the growth that they’ve shown, and the buy-in. We believe we can play with anybody.

“Maybe that experience was what we needed.”

The 14Us (53-16-3, No. 8 in MyHockeyRankings) followed a similar trajectory at the NE Pack playoffs, edging the host Gulls, 3-2, in a semifinal showdown before dropping a 7-2 decision to the fourth-ranked RI Saint M’s in the championship.

14U head coach Greg Collins tipped his cap to the level of competition, which capped a six-event NE Pack schedule over the course of the past five months.

“Every game in the NE Pack is a grind,” Collins said. “That’s what’s great about the league. As long as we play the game the right way, we have success. When you get outside that, you get into trouble against top programs, like (RI Saint M’s).

“Good to go through that now. Credit to the league.”

14U forward Luca Cannata (Commack, N.Y.) said the tempo of games at this level was already challenging, but that amped up another tick or two for the NE Pack playoffs.

“The intensity of every game was very high,” Cannata said. “Everyone was battling and competing all over the ice. As the pace picks up, the games get harder, but more fun to play in. Every thing you do has to be faster and stronger while thinking at 100 miles an hour.”

Cannata, who played last season for the Long Island Gulls program, said he has some extra motivation to fight for a state title after the winter break. His dad was a successful high school wrestler who was denied a chance to compete for a New York state championship when his opponent had to drop out due to injury.

Considering their No. 8 ranking, there’s a good chance the 14Us could get an at-large bid to USA Hockey Nationals even if they don’t win the state, but of course the most direct path to the national tournament is to reign over New York.

“I’d like to see everyone firing on all cylinders and win the state tournament to punch our ticket to Nationals,” Cannata said.

The fourth-ranked 15O team (47-12-7) was relieved to have more players available for the NE Pack playoffs than on recent weekends; at one point, the squad was rotating through just four healthy defensemen.

Now, after collecting a pair of shutout wins last weekend, the hope is that there’s more left in the fuel tank for the gauntlet of March, with those reinforcements firmly in place.

“We were skating and working,” head coach Stockton said of the NE Pack playoffs performance. “Moving the puck well. Getting to the inside of the ice. We’ve been preaching a lot of those concepts over the past two weeks.”

Head coach David Arduin of the 18Us had a different takeaway after his squad went 1-2 in Connecticut, a result highlighted by a 2-1 round-robin win over No. 5-ranked and eventual NE Pack champ Pittsburgh Penguins Elite.

“We finally won a game without playing our best,” Arduin noted. “So many times (this season) we’ve felt we played good enough to win, so it was nice to see some of the intangibles and habits get us through. It’s about proving that we have the ability to beat anybody that we play.”

Arduin singled out forward Owen King (Webster, N.Y. / Providence College) for his “super-consistent” performance since the new year, a welcomed development at the end of what he called an inconsistent season for the 13th-ranked 18Us (32-25-4).

“Our ranking isn’t what we would want it to be,” Arduin said. “Honestly, we’re really looking forward to the (winter) break because we think the kids need it.”

The 18Us will have to outdo the Buffalo Regals, Buffalo Jr. Sabres, the Gulls and the Nichols School to win the state tournament next month and advance to Nationals for a second-straight season.

Arduin believes getting after it all season in the NE Pack will only help their chances in pulling off that feat.

“This is one of the best, if not the best midget league in the country,” he said. “I think it says a lot that four different programs won championships last weekend. The competition is great and it’s evenly matched.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

BK Selects Girls Salute Their Class of ’23 Seniors

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The following are the tribute scripts put together by the BK Selects staff to honor the 10 seniors in the Class of 2023.

The senior class was recognized last weekend as the No. 2-ranked 19U team went 1-0-1 against 12th-ranked Detroit Belle Tire at Bill Gray’s Regional Iceplex.

The seniors were recognized in numerical order:

4. F Olivia Rubinstein (Glencoe, Ill. / Wesleyan University)
A five-year BK Selects forward, Olivia will continue to pursue her academic and athletic career with the Wesleyan Cardinals. She was accompanied on the ice by her father Dan and mother Abbey. Olivia is grateful to her parents for their unwavering support throughout her years at BK.

6. D Kate Meinert (Moon Township, Pa.)
In her mere three years at BK Selects, Kate has garnered many accomplishments, including two state championships, as well as USA Hockey national tournament runner-up last season. The Selects program is honored and thrilled to be welcoming Kate back next year for a post-grad year. She was accompanied on the ice by her father Dave and her mother Cristy, along with Kate’s twin sister Megan. Kate is grateful for the support from her family and is extremely excited to continue her journey here at BK.

8. F Kiara Kraft (Churchville, N.Y. / Providence College)
A four-year BK Selects forward, Kiara is committed to Providence College where she will continue to pursue her academic and athletic career with the Friars. She was accompanied by her father Mike and mother Heather, and Kiara’s grandparents Phyllis, Scott and Claire. Kiara is extremely appreciative of her family’s unwavering support throughout her years at BK.

9. D Molly Jordan (Berlin, Conn. / Boston College)
We have had the privilege of coaching Molly for one year, but in her short amount of time she has made a positive lasting impact, both for BK and Team USA. Molly is committed to Boston College where she will continue to pursue her academic and athletic career with the Eagles. Accompanying Molly is her father George and mother Jen. Molly is grateful to her parents for their support throughout her many years of hockey.

11. F Nikki Sharp (Perth, Australia / Nazareth College)
In her short amount of time at Selects, Nikki has made a positive lasting impact on the program. Our beloved Aussie will be returning to Rochester in the fall to pursue her academic and athletic career playing at this very rink for the Nazareth Golden Flyers. Her dorm parents Sarge and Haker joined her to celebrate. Nikki is grateful to the BK Selects program for all the support and encouragement throughout this year. 

16. F Bella Vasseur (Waitsfield, Vt. / University of Wisconsin)
A four-year BK Selects forward, Bella is committed to the University of Wisconsin where she will continue to pursue her academic and athletic career with the Badgers. Her mother Cristal joined her on the ice to celebrate. Bella is grateful for the love and support from her mom and family throughout her years at BK.

18. F Izzy Krause (Calabasas, Calif. / Long Island University)
A three-year forward, Izzy is committed to Long Island University, where she will continue to pursue her academic and athletic career with the Sharks. Izzy was accompanied by her father Dan and mother Kate. Izzy is extremely appreciative of her family’s unwavering support throughout her years at BK.

22. F Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla. / Northeastern University)
A four-year forward at BK, Peyton is committed to Northeastern University where she will continue to pursue her academic and athletic career with the Huskies. Her father Rich accompanied her on the ice to celebreate. Peyton is grateful for the love and support from her dad and family throughout her years at BK.

28. F Naomi Tink (Birmingham, Mich. / St. Michael’s College)
A three-year forward at BK, Naomi is committed to St. Michael’s College where she will continue to pursue her academic and athletic career with the Purple Knights. Naomi’s father Jason and mother Jocelyn joined her to celebrate. Naomi is grateful for the love and support from her family throughout her time at BK.

30. G Ava McNaughton (Seven Fields, Pa. / University of Wisconsin)
Ava has been a brick wall for BK for the last 4 years. Ava will be continuing her academic and hockey career, alongside current teammate Bella, at the University of Wisconsin. Joining Ava were her father Rob and mother Gretchen, plus her uncle Jon, aunt Amie, and aunt Susan. Ava is extremely grateful for her family’s love and support throughout her time at BK.

*****

We are so very proud of all our seniors for your vast and numerous accomplishments. We thank you for everything you have given and put into your time at BK, both academically and athletically. We have no doubt you will achieve success in each and every endeavor you pursue. We are looking forward to cheering you on throughout your next chapter. 

‘The Best Time of Year’ — BK Selects Girls Bear Down for Postseason

by Matt Gajtka

DETROIT — There’s nothing that can truly simulate the excitement and stress of the playoffs, but as far as regular-season events go, the Motor City Girls Fest does as good a job as any.

Featuring top Tier I programs from across the country, this event — put on by Premier Ice Prospects — asks teams to play six games in less than 72 hours, if they manage to go all the way to the finals of their respective divisions.

The BK Selects 19U girls achieved that feat, and although they fell in the final to the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers, the fact they pieced together five consecutive victories against quality competition to get to that stage has the team feeling strong in the midst of the stretch run.

“It was a good opportunity to learn where we’re at,” said Bishop Kearney VP of Hockey/19U Girls Head Coach Paul Colontino. “(The Motor City Girls Fest) is hard but it mirrors the (USA Hockey) national tournament. It was a good game in the championship, even if it wasn’t our best, but with the glass half-full we’re able to take some of those things and learn from them.”

With a record of 40-7-5 and a No. 2 ranking in the country, the BK Selects 19U girls would be on anyone’s shortlist of national title contenders. Their only losses over the past two months are to the fourth-ranked Jr. Flyers and 11th-ranked Detroit Little Caesars.

Still, standards are high in these parts, so any bump in the road is examined to make sure the team is in the best possible position to peak by early March.

“We have all been extremely committed to being the best team in the country,” said senior forward Bella Vasseur (Waitsfield, Vt. / University of Wisconsin).

Vasseur led all BK 19U skaters with four goals in the tournament, and tied for the team lead in points (six) with Izzy Krause (Calabasas, Calif.) and defender Molly Jordan (Berlin, Conn. / Boston College). Goalie Michaela Hesová (Hovorcovice, Czechia / Dartmouth College) won all three of her starts and posted a .929 save percentage in teaming with fellow ‘tender Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa. / University of Wisconsin).

Colontino noted that Jordan — who last month was named to the IIHF World Under-18 Championship all-tourney team — is playing like “the best defender in the country at this level” and that Vasseur has been “killing it” on the ice. He also complimented his team on keeping spirits high, which is no given after the competitive grind of the past five months.

“We have a good group that has no problem bringing energy every day,” Vasseur said. “We all feed off of it and build on it every day. We’ve had a little adversity and we know what we need to work on: The little things.”

That same brand of self-examination is going on with the 16U girls, who won their first four at Motor City before bowing to sixth-ranked Little Caesars in the semifinal round.

Head Coach Jake Anderson’s team is 39-11-6 and ranked 11th — certainly nothing to turn up your nose at — but the bench boss has had to make sure his players understand the narrow margins of elite girls hockey.

“They want to be in every championship game,” Anderson said, “and when it doesn’t happen they feel like they’re far away. We’ve been telling the players, ‘Just stay with it, because you’re a lot closer than you feel like.’ “

Forwards Rae Mayer (Chesapeake, Va.) and Morgan Walton (Geneseo, N.Y.) paced all BK Selects 16U players in Detroit with five points apiece, while defender Shayla Beaudette (Aurora, Colo.) recorded four.

Defense has been a strength for the 16U girls. (CHRISTINA COLONTINO/BK SELECTS)

The 16Us also continued a season-long defensive trend in allowing just six goals in the five games they played at Motor City — a total that includes the two empty-netters given up at the end of the semifinal game. Goalie Emeline Grennan (Washington, D.C.) faced just 43 shots all tournament, a testament to the team’s ability to limit chances.

“Our team is playing a really good team game, especially on the defensive side of the puck,” Anderson, whose team has given up just 62 goals in 56 overall games. “We have to continue to work on generating offense and being consistent through the whole game, but our effort is consistently good.”

As one of the older players on the team, forward Payton Palsa (Annapolis, Md.) has taken charge of additional leadership duties this season.

“It’s definitely been a challenge, but I’ve learned so much,” she said after notching a pair of assists in Detroit. “It’s so fun and I’ve become a better person. I’m so excited for (the state tournament).”

The New York state tourney is still a few weeks away at the start of March, but ramping up for that occasion is the primary focus of practice this time of year. Also, Anderson said standalone weekend series against high-quality foes like Durham West last month and Pittsburgh Penguins Elite this upcoming weekend help the coaching staff nail down any potential problem spots.

“In the first half of the season, it’s about building the habits of practicing and competing,” Anderson said. “A lot of these players are away from home for the first time in their lives. In the second half, we work more on team concepts.

“How much control do we have on when we peak? I don’t know, but the idea is that you put in enough work for seven months and then it shows up at the end of the season.”

The 19Us are on a similar timetable, although they have the emotions of senior weekend directly ahead before then can fully focus on winning the New York tournament and qualifying for Nationals.

“We’re a very talented group and we have an outstanding culture, collectively,” Colontino said. “Our seniors are doing a phenomenal job in being role models, but I’d say collectively, to a person they’re doing a good job of doing the right thing and saying the right thing.”

One way to look at it is that the pressure amps up this time of year. Another way to look at it is that the rewards level up as well.

“We know our systems well at this point,” Palsa said. “We’ve been working hard as a team, just headed towards that end goal now.

“It’s definitely stressful, trying to perfect everything, but it’s definitely the best time of year!”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.