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