Category: 19U Girls

Eight BK Selects Girls to Compete in Under-18 Women’s World Championship

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — For the second time in seven months, the International Ice Hockey Federation will conduct its Under-18 Women’s World Championship, set this time for early January in Sweden.

And for the second time in seven months, BK Selects will have a major presence on Team USA.

Eighth current BK Selects players were selected for their U18 Worlds teams this week, with seven of those picked by Team USA. That group includes 19U forward Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont. / University of Wisconsin), who represented America just this past June in Wisconsin, scored two goals and four total points to help Team USA to a sliver-medal finish.

Joining McCarthy in the Stars and Stripes will be forward Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla. / Northeastern University), forward Lucia DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass. / Princeton University), defender Rose Dwyer (Wynnewood, Pa. / Cornell University), defender Megan Healy (South Burlington, Vt.), defender Molly Jordan (Berlin, Conn. / Boston College) and forward Bella Fanale (Webster, N.Y.). All of the above except Fanale — who skates for the 16Us — are on the BK Selects 19U team.

“We are very proud of the players selected to the team,” BK Selects VP of Hockey/19U Head Coach Paul Colontino said. “It is a great honor for the player and the program. We have 40 players here that are tremendously talented, dedicated and highly motivated student-athletes. From administration to coaches to players, we all share in the excitement for their opportunity.

“We are extremely fortunate to have the environment, resources, and culture to help prepare our student-athletes on a daily basis for the next step in whichever path they choose.”

Also, BK Selects goaltender Michaela Hesová (Hovorčovice, Czechia / Dartmouth College) will again suit up for her native Czechia, following up a dazzling performance last summer in her international debut. She started all five games for the Czechs, posting a .944 save percentage and two shutouts as they made a run to the quarterfinal round.

McCarthy, who hadn’t played above the 16U level entering last summer’s tournament, said competing with and against the world’s best under-18 players helped speed up her on-ice mental processing.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with my skill and skating and stick-handling,” she said. “I think the processing is a huge separator between (age) levels. It’s helped me slow down the game mentally and make decisions (more) quickly, even if I have more time.”

Team USA has been placed in Group A with fellow powers Sweden, Finland and defending champ Canada. All four are guaranteed a spot in the playoff round after playing three round-robin games, as two quarterfinal byes will be up for grabs. Group B nations Czechia, Slovakia, Switzerland and Japan will battle for the two remaining playoff spots, with the bottom two forced to play a two-game relegation series for the right to stay in the tourney field in 2024.

Last June, Bishop Kearney alum Laila Edwards won tournament MVP in Madison, Wisconsin, scoring four goals and assisting on four others for Team USA. Current BK Selects 19U goalie Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa. / University of Wisconsin) also made the 2022 team, but she aged out of the pool of eligible players this time around.

The 2023 IIHF U-18 Women’s World Championship begins Jan. 8 in Östersund, Sweden and concludes a week later. The 2022 event was postponed from its usual mid-winter timing, setting up this quick turnaround to the next one.

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

‘It’s a Mix of Everything’ – BK Selects Girls Take Holistic Approach to Development

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It’s a well-worn hockey truism that, as long as a team battles hard enough, its talent will play up and shine through.

We don’t let the other team push us around,” said BK Selects 19U forward Naomi Tink (Birmingham, Mich.) last month at the USA-Canada Cup. “And we’re able to show our skill by doing that.”

But team dynamics aside, the fact remains that developing individual skill is critical for a player to go far in a highly-competitive arena like hockey. And it naturally follows that the better a player gets, the more she can bring to the team in its pursuit of a collective goal.

It’s those principles that guide the BK Selects girls program as it navigates through a given season, balancing the rigors of a high-level education and a competitive team travel schedule with the mission of maximizing each player’s athletic potential.

“We’re a development program,” said Director of Girls Hockey Cari Coen, who doubles as the 19Us’ Associate Head Coach. “We’re not just a hockey program that produces wins. We’re working on the skill development, performance over result.

“It’s just like if you’re preparing for a test. You’ve got to do your homework first.”

When it comes to that work, there are several instructors to guide that process. Coen herself is hands-on with multiple development sessions per week conducted both in an on-campus “skills room” and at Bill Gray’s Regional Iceplex, with help from VP of Hockey/19U Head Coach Paul Colontino and 16U Head Coach Jake Anderson, plus their respective staffs.

BK Selects also has a local ace in the hole in former longtime RIT head coach Scott McDonald, who led the Tigers to unprecedented success and multiple championships at the NCAA Division I and III levels before retiring in 2018. Coen calls McDonald “an unbelievable skills coach” who is focusing this season on guiding players through skill sessions that are separate from team practices.

For his part, McDonald said he’s treasured the chance to drill down on helping individual players make strides. That goes figuratively and literally, as much of the early-season work has focused on refining the fundamentals of skating.

“It was, ‘Let’s take a step backward so we can take a couple of steps forward,’ ” McDonald said. “We’re now seeing it come together. My process is to make whatever we’re working on game-relatable. There are no pylons or cones out there during a game.”

McDonald said he’s been refreshed by the commitment level of BK athletes, who take the risk at an early age to move away from home and into a greenhouse for cultivating hockey skills. He related the satisfaction he felt from hearing a player excitedly tell him about a new technique she incorporated into a recent game.

“They’re all here for the right reasons,” he said. “They came to Bishop Kearney to get better and we’re giving them the tools to get better. They’re dialed in and ready to go. There’s no buy-in; they’ve already bought in. There’s so much development to be made at this level.”

Add in the increasing number of players who work with a self-appointed skill coach during the offseason and there’s never been a better place or time to become a better hockey player.

“At the end of the day, it takes a village,” Colontino said. “It’s about different sets of lenses. The more quality coaching they can get from a variety of people, I think it’s better. It’s hard when you’re just getting it from one (source). I think players do come in (to teams) better prepared than before.”

In the end, though, getting better as a player is about more than skating, stickhandling, shooting, passing and developing overall biomechanical power. This sport constantly tests one’s physical and mental abilities, two sides of the coin that feed off each other if honed properly.

“If you can skate, shoot and pass, and take care of yourself off the ice, you’re going to have a lot of assets,” Coen said, “but some of the individual (drill) stuff is great for playing with your head up, but it’s not really game-specific.

“We want you to be an athlete and not a robot. It’s about reading and reacting, and not being told what to do.”

To help achieve that objective, BK Selects players have personalized access to video breakdowns of every game they play, with the ability to pinpoint even-strength, power-play and short-handed shifts via a simple search.

As any performance coach will tell you, objective feedback is critical to the process of improvement.

“In the past, players had to wait for coaches or were reliant on them to go through video,” Colontino said. “Now, if they want to watch, they can do it. It’s allowed them to take more ownership in that portion and develop the skills, where they can teach themselves just by watching.”

For all the tools that are available, though, the individual player has to take the initiative. Fortunately, every week at BK provides a feedback loop that allows for both an honest self-assessment and an avenue to get better.

“The kids that are doing the extra stuff, the cream rises to the top,” Coen said. “You’re working on your game and understanding what the coaches are telling you, so when it does come down to the end of the year, we’re all together and everyone is pulling the weight.”

Naturally, some players will ‘make the jump’ more than others over the course of a given week, month or season. The task for coaches — especially in a developmental program like BK Selects — is to always keep the door open for more players to lift their levels.

While the end of the season brings an organic pecking order when it comes to certain high-leverage game situations, there’s always room for someone new to step up.

“There might be times that one individual plays over the other, because they’re putting in the work, but if a kid falls short in a game situation, they’re not written off,” Coen said.

“They’re going to get another opportunity. We don’t really have first, second, third and fourth lines. You see it weekly in practice, who is prepared and putting their best foot forward.”

Coen, who got her hockey start playing for both girls and boys teams in her native southern California, said there’s no doubt “the demand for skills is higher” than it was 10 or 15 years ago. In her words, there’s a higher proportion of “hockey-serious” athletes picking up the sport than ever before.

Like it has with society in general, social media has changed the world of skill development, too. Platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and TikTok make it easy to share tips and techniques for improvement, but it can also encourage some empty-calorie indulgence if an athlete isn’t careful.

“Social (media) can be a great learning tool,” Coen said, “but sometimes it can be about ‘Who’s gonna see my sweet toe-drag or bar-down goal?’ You still have to be able to skate at an elite level and make decisions when moving the puck.”

That’s a process BK Selects aims to improve every year.

“It’s expanded because we’re older as a program,” Colontino said. “It’s a mix of everything.”

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

BK Selects 19U Girls Take Setbacks in Stride at USA-Canada Cup

by Matt Gajtka

FRASER, Mich. — When a hockey team goes more than a month without losing, like the BK Selects 19U girls did at the start of this season, the inevitable letdown can be a shock to the system.

When that shock repeats less than 24 hours later, there can be a compounding effect if a team isn’t careful.

Fortunately for BK, the format of last weekend’s USA-Canada Cup in Detroit’s northern suburbs didn’t allow for dwelling on the past, and the 19Us finished the showcase-style event with back-to-back victories over Ontario Hockey Academy and a 13-2-4 overall record.

Most teams would love to be in that position. But even though USA Hockey’s second-ranked 19U girls team wrapped up the tourney winning three of five, outscoring opponents 17-7 in the process, all involved with the team seemed determined that their first two defeats of 2022-23 wouldn’t be in vain.

“We thought we weren’t strong (in the first loss), and then you come back the next morning and you drop another one,” said 19Us head coach Paul Colontino. “I like how we responded in that we played well got back on the horse. Now we just have to keep rolling on what we picked up on.”

Specifically, that first loss of the weekend, by a 3-1 count to No. 1-ranked Canadian club Durham West Jr. Lightning on Friday, could be a candidate for an early-season turning point. The general consensus among the coaching staff was that BK gave Durham West too much respect, to the point they played too passively.

There might have also been some emotional carryover to Saturday morning, when BK allowed a couple of power-play goals in a 3-2 loss to Burlington (Ont.). The bright side? There were just a few hours to wait at Big Boy Arena before they ran it back against OHA.

The result Saturday afternoon was an 8-1 romp, keyed by a dominant first period that left no doubt the losing streak would end after two games.

“After this game this morning it stung more after having been undefeated for so long,” said forward Greta Brezinski (Waunakee, Wisc./Clarkson University). “It was something we needed, and as coach Paul said, we played with a little chip on our shoulder knowing that we are very skilled, but that doesn’t mean we’re unbeatable.

“We got to keep going and find that next level.”

Angelina DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass./Princeton University) and Izzy Krause (Calabasas, Calif.) led the 19Us on the weekend with three goals and four points each, while Kiara Kraft (Churchville, N.Y./Providence College) and defender Brooke George (East Montpelier, Vt./University of Vermont) chipped in four points apiece as well.

BK’s successful bounce-back, however, might’ve been best exemplified by the performance of the newly-configured forward line of Olivia Rubinstein (Glencoe, Ill./Wesleyan University), Nikki Sharp (Perth, Australia/Nazareth College) and Naomi Tink (Birmingham, Mich.).

The three had played together briefly in practice the previous week, but Colontino told them he didn’t think they would play together in Detroit. Nevertheless, they were united midway through the weekend and helped set a productive tone with a no-frills, cooperative manner of play.

“All-around, we’re very similar players so we worked well together,” said Sharp, who enrolled at BK this summer after a year playing at a Canadian academy. “We each communicate really well. We had a really strong forecheck.”

Greta Brezinski (21) stickhandles through traffic. (CHRISTINA COLONTINO/BK SELECTS)

That trio capitalized in crowd-pleasing fashion midway through Sunday’s 4-0 win against OHA. With the score just 1-0, Rubinstein rifled a shot from the left circle that Sharp deflected off the goaltender’s pad and directly to Tink, who was crashing the net from the right post.

Tink, who grew up about 30 minutes away from Big Boy Arena, tapped the rebound into the open net and immediately sprinted to jump into the right-wing glass, behind which her parents were standing and cheering.

“I really didn’t have to do much,” a grinning Tink said of her fundamental finish. “It was hard, the game before I had a lot of chances, but couldn’t bury. I knew I had to do something this game.”

Tink, a senior who’s in her third year at BK, said she thought her line could have some longevity, simply because they have similar mindsets about playing the game.

“No one thinks they’re the best on that line, there’s no big personalities,” Tink said. “We play systems and it works. We listen to coach and it pays off.”

Regardless of how the 19Us got the ship back on course, the important thing is that they did it.

That goes the same for someone like forward Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont./University of Wisconsin), who’s coming off a summer during which she contributed — two goals, two assists in four games — to Team USA’s silver-medal performance at the Under-18 Women’s World Championships.

She confessed she’s still adapting to the 19U level after starring for the BK Selects 16Us over the past two seasons, but McCarthy knows a good wake-up call when she sees it.

“I think (losing) was a good reality check for us,” she said Saturday, shortly after notching her second goal in as many games. “Every day is not going to be a win, so it’s good to have that slap in the face.”

It may be a clichéd thought, but especially at this stage of the season, what really matters is what happens after the setback.

“It’s good to get us all on the same page,” McCarthy said, “and get our swagger back.”

Meanwhile, the 12th-ranked BK Selects 16Us (13-4-5) continued their recent surge, going 3-0-2 in Detroit against Canadian competition.

Forwards Rae Mayer (Chesapeake, Va.) and Bella Fanale (Webster, N.Y.) paced the squad with four points each in the showcase, with Mayer netting a team-best three goals. Following consecutive 1-1 ties against Durham West and Central York, BK reeled off three straight wins by a combined score of 11-2.

That push included victories over a pair of Canadian 18U teams, sponsored by clubs from OHA and Kitchener (Ont.) Lady Rangers.

“I think this was the best competition of the year,” said third-year BK defender Miami Jones (Chevy Chase, Md.). “We’ve been trying to improve the first period and how we start as a team. We usually don’t start as well, but now we’re starting a lot better. It’s just about focusing.”

Head coach Jake Anderson was particularly impressed with how BK poured on a pair of goals in their 3-1 Sunday win over Waterloo (Ont.) Ravens. Adreanna Stamper (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) and Fanale scored nine seconds apart in the last minute of the first period, turning a tied game into a major BK advantage.

“We’ve been talking about shifts after goals,” Anderson said. “We always talk about being consistent, and I thought we brought a consistent energy and effort every day. We didn’t have a lull.”

The 16Us have a weekend off from competition, while the 19Us travel to historic Lake Placid next, to take on Northwood School.

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

Led By ‘Rock’ Grennan in Goal, 16U Girls Finding Their Legs Early

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Regardless of the sport, the start of every season requires adjustments.

That goes double for youth sports, where athletes rise through the ranks briskly — from debut to graduation — and year-over-year roster churn is the only constant.

The BK Selects girls are managing those issues as well as could be expected, as both squads are again ranking among the nation’s best through the first month of the 2022-23 season.

Results bear that out — the third-ranked 19U team is a remarkable 10-0-4 with a tourney title already under its belt and the 11th-ranked 16U squad has piled up an 11-4-3 record — but, of course, much of the acclimating is going on below the surface.

“New season, new players, new faces,” 16U head coach Jake Anderson said. “We bring in a lot of younger kids and new kids at our level. They have to make up that ground because they haven’t been there before. In the first month we’ve made some huge strides, and becoming more consistent.”

There’s undoubtedly some difficulty in jumping from the 16U level to 19U, as BK’s VP of Hockey Paul Colontino can attest through his duties as head coach of the 19Us. He chalks up the “significant jump” between levels to the overall pace and intensity of the games.

“The gaps (between players) are tighter and there’s less time and space,” Colontino said. “The players tend to adjust quickly, but there’s a change.”

However, an argument could be made that the bigger jump occurs between standing out with local youth hockey programs and competing on a national stage as a 16U player.

Bridging that gap is a large part of the job early on for Anderson and his staff, which includes assistants Scott Macdonald, Jason Simmons and newcomer Mel Ames.

“A lot of kids who come here were the best kids where they were,” Anderson explained. “At 14U you can do a lot on your own, but we play a lot of teams where it’s hard to be individual and succeed.

“Using your teammates and trusting your teammates gives the individual the success she’s looking for. I don’t think anyone is selfish is a bad way, but to build a team atmosphere and a team goal, it takes a little while.”

Fortunately for the 16Us, who just went 2-1-1 over a tough weekend in New Hampshire to open October, they have some veterans to lean on when it comes to protecting the net.

Not only do they have a pair of sophomores leading the defense in Alara Murphy (Musquodoboit Harbour, Nova Scotia) and third-year BK’er Miami Jones (Chevy Chase, Md.), returning goalie Emeline Grennan (Washington, D.C.) has taken a step forward from last year — both in role and performance.

“I feel my confidence has pushed me to take the next step in my development,” said Grennan, who shared the net with Czechia’s Michaela Hesova last season. “My performance shows I’ve gained more confidence than last year and it makes me feel stronger about my ability.”

Grennan said she spent part of her summer working on being quicker around the net and controlling rebounds better. She said that technical improvement has boosted her self-belief, but part of her increased confidence can be attributed to something more intangible, but equally important.

“I think (my confidence) comes from my teammates trusting in me,” Grennan said, “and showing that they trust me.”

“She’s been our rock this year,” Anderson said. “Our most consistent player.”

There’s also plenty of leadership up front for the 16Us, with two juniors in Morgan Walton (Geneseo, N.Y.) and Adreanna Stamper (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) heading up a group of six returners in the forward corps.

Anderson said injuries and illness have already been a concern for his roster, but up front “a different kid is stepping up every game.”

Not that there’s much room for nitpicking, especially with many months left to go in the season, but a recent loss to No. 1-ranked East Coast Wizards in New Hampshire shows Anderson where his team can stand to improve.

While BK had edged the Wizards at the Labor Day Girls Fest tournament in Pittsburgh, this time East Coast got its revenge with a 4-3 win over the Selects. Anderson noted that BK allowed two of those goals on breakaways and two more on 2-on-1 rushes, emblematic of an early-season issue with wavering focus.

“We’ve got to be more consistent throughout games,” Anderson said. “We were really good for long stretches.We’re continuing to grow.

“Our group is really talented and connected and our younger kids have been here for five weeks, so it’s time for our returners to keep pushing the group forward.”

After taking this weekend off from games, the 16Us will join the 19Us in greater Detroit the following weekend for another significant tournament.

“It’s a huge test in October,” Anderson said, “to see where we are.”

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

Fruits of Their Labor: 19Us Snag Trophy in Pittsburgh to Open Season

by Matt Gajtka

PITTSBURGH — Although it was the first event of the new season, the BK Selects girls teams couldn’t be accused of easing their way into 2022-23.

On the contrary, the second-annual Labor Day Girls Fest featured as competitive a field as one could imagine, considering every team is still finding their footing on the first weekend of September.

Not that you’d know it from looking at the BK Selects’ results: A championship for the 19Us and a runner-up finish for the 16Us.

What’s more, the 19Us ran the table in the Steel City, sporting a 6-0 record highlighted by a pair of extra-time victories over the powerhouse Minnesota Jr. Whitecaps. Junior forward Angelina DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass. / Princeton University) scored the overtime winner in the second of those showdowns, delivering a 2-1 win in the 19U Gold Division final.

“The most promising part of the weekend was the progression of the team’s game,” 19Us head coach Paul Colontino said. “We had some good character tests early that set us up for a nice semifinal and final. Good to see how the team handled things.”

Senior forward Bella Vasseur (Waitsfield, Vt. / University of Wisconsin) tied for the age-group lead with eight points (5g, 3a), including two goals in a 4-1 semifinal win over the East Coast (Mass.) Wizards. She also netted a hat trick in a round-robin victory against the Kingston (Ont.) Jr. Ice Wolves.

Vasseur said the 19U returners gelled with the newcomers extraordinarily well in late August, setting up this impressive season-opening performance. She noted it took just one practice for the familiarity to start building.

“We all connected by the second practice, and our team energy was high this whole weekend,” Vasseur said. “Our instant chemistry as a team really played a role. We outworked everyone and worked together to create individual and team success.”

BK earned its first banner of the season, thanks to the 19Us. (CHRISTINA COLONTINO/BK SELECTS)

Lucia DiGirolamo, a Princeton recruit like her twin sister Angelina, scored in back-to-back wins over Mid Fairfield and Detroit Belle Tire. Lucia was one of four Selects with multiple goals in the event, along with her sister, Vasseur and senior Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla. / Northeastern University).

Lucia said the transition from 16U to 19U was “nothing crazy,” adding that the coaching staff did well to prepare the newcomers for the increased pace and decreased space at the older level of play.

“I think the team performed great,” Lucia said. “We rose to the task at hand and did what was expected from our group. Based on last year’s seasons for both teams, everyone had high expectations for our squad and I think we’re on the right track to achieving it.”

Colontino and staff split the goaltending duties down the middle, with great results from senior Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa. / Wisconsin) and junior Michaela Hesova (Hovorčovice, Czechia). The former stopped 48 of 49 shots (.979 save percentage) with two shutouts and the latter denied 31 of 33 (.939 SV%) and one clean sheet.

While the players certainly had some expectations for the start of a new year, Colontino was sure to remind that the weekend was an exploratory mission as much as anything.

“You want to have a little bit of a base for the tournament and you want to grow,” he said. “I don’t think there’s concrete expectations. It’s simply learning about your team and each other. Figuring out what kind of tools you have in the toolbox.”

16U head coach Jake Anderson should be pleased with what he has at his disposal this season, too, if the result from the Labor Day Girls Fest means anything. A 1-0 loss in the Gold Division championship game to the Jr. Whitecaps was all that separated BK Selects from a double crown.

“It was a great weekend overall,” Anderson said. “Tough loss in the championship, but it was a great weekend.”

Denmark’s Olivia Olesen shined in her first BK Selects action. (CHRISTINA COLONTINO/BK SELECTS)

Along the way to the final, the 16Us prevailed in a pair of OT games, beating East Coast Wizards in the quarterfinal round and Minnesota Northern Elite Green in the semifinals. Sophomore forward Bella Fanale (Webster, N.Y.) and sophomore defender Miami Jones (Chevy Chase, Md.) scored the winners in those.

For the tournament, Fanale and Danish eighth-grader Olivia Olesen (Odense, Denmark) tied the team lead with three goals each, while Megan Meola (Long Valley, N.J.) and Morgan Walton (Geneseo, N.Y.) put up five points apiece.

Overall, the BK Selects contingent was pleased with the elevated level of play so early in the fall. Unlike in last year’s inaugural event, Canadian teams were free to travel, which added to what was already an attractive tourney in its first edition.

“It was extremely competitive,” Vasseur said. “All of the games were fast-paced and physical.”

And, to top it off, Colontino could smile about claiming a banner in the city where he won three College Hockey America conference championships as longtime coach of the Robert Morris University NCAA Division I women’s program.

“It’s great,” Colontino said “It’s run incredibly well in terms of everything, from communication to organization. And the quality of the teams you’re able to compete against, from Canada and the U.S., was great.”

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

Quartet of BK Selects Girls Shine at IIHF U18 World Championships

by Matt Gajtka

Spearheaded by Laila Edwards’ MVP performance for Team USA, the BK Selects girls were extremely well represented at this year’s IIHF U18 Women’s World Championships in Madison, Wisconsin.

Edwards, a Cleveland native who will attend the University of Wisconsin in the fall, led all USA players with four goals and tied for the team lead with eight points, en route to receiving both MVP and Best Forward honors.

Along with Bishop Kearney friends Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont.) and Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa.), Edwards helped the Americans to a silver-medal finish at the annual tourney, won by Canada in a tight final.

“I had that success because I was also playing with some of the world’s best players, under some of the world’s best coaches and having a lot of fun while doing so,” Edwards said.

Add in the sterling performance of Czech goaltender Michaela Hesova (Hovorcovice, Czechia), who had the second-best save percentage in the tournament, BK Selects-trained players put on quite a show on an international stage.

“What a tremendous accomplishment,” BK Selects VP of hockey Paul Colontino said. “Watching BK players representing their countries at the highest level on that stage evoked numerous emotions. What an honor to say that these athletes are BK Selects.

“I can safely say that everyone at BK was proud, excited, and trying to find any way they could to support and cheer them on. From teachers to administrators to coaches, we are all so very proud of their accomplishments.”

With Edwards, McCarthy and McNaughton all competing internationally for the first time, Team USA went 3-0 in the preliminary round, capped by a remarkable 7-0 defeat of Canada. Edwards notched a goal and a primary assist in what tied for the biggest blowout of the entire event.

The Americans then dispatched Sweden in the semifinal round, 3-2, with Edwards assisting on the winning goal.

Edwards, who earned plenty of media attention for her performance in her future home rink, said she was “extremely excited and honored” to get the call from USA Hockey.

“It had been a goal of mine for a while,” she said of the selection.

Although the United States lost to Canada in the final, 3-2, McCarthy scored a second-period goal to help the Americans rally from three goals down. The Class of 2024 forward ended up with two goals and two assists in five games, tying for sixth on the team in scoring.

“Playing at BK for the past three years has more than prepared me to play and compete at that level,” McCarthy said. “I was definitely challenged and my time and space with the puck felt shorter, but I never felt uncomfortable.

“It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Unlike any other hockey trip or tournament I’ve been to. I am so honored to have been a part of it.”

Hesova, another BK Class of ’24 representative, was also decked out in red, white and blue, albeit for the proud hockey nation of Czechia. With Hesova starting all five games, the Czechs swept the three-game preliminary round, outscoring opponents 12-2.

While the Czechs’ run ended with a 2-1 semifinal loss to Sweden, Hesova acquitted herself admirably throughout, posting a .944 save percentage, a 1.05 goals-against average and two shutouts.

“The whole championship was an incredible experience,” Hesova said. “It was fun to play against some other international teams, see how is our team doing compared to them, and now we know what we can improve on.”

“All of the small things that I or we did throughout the season added up and luckily came together at the right time.”

Hesova added that she was “super proud” of her BK teammates on Team USA, who came within a couple of goals of claiming gold. Czechia and Team USA did not face each other in the tournament.

Edwards will soon begin her Badger career, but McCarthy, Hesova and McNaughton will be back on the Bishop Kearney campus in several weeks, ready to build upon their time spent amongst the world’s best — and perhaps realizing they stack up as well as any young women on the planet.

“I gained so many lifetime friendships from the experience,” McCarthy said. “Through this tournament and the weeks leading up to it, I grew as a hockey player and a person.”

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

16U Girls Stopped in National Title Game, 19Us Make U.S. Quarterfinals

by Matt Gajtka

PITTSBURGH — When you make it as far as the Bishop Kearney Selects girls teams did, the end of a season often seems like a paradox.

Do you celebrate the achievement, in this case, earning your place in the knockout round of USA Hockey’s national tournament? Or do you lament how close you came to standing atop the mountain?

How about both?

Although the BK Selects 16U and 19U squads ultimately did not bring trophies back from Nationals — with the younger group getting closer by making the championship game — this season provided even more evidence that the program has established itself as a perennial contender in elite girls hockey.

“The girls put up a goal at the beginning of the year to play for a national championship,” said 16U head coach Jake Anderson. “This year showed all that work come to fruition. They bought in and played for each other and not themselves. Extremely proud.”

The 16Us, who finished the season with a nation-leading 55 victories, sustained their lone loss of the 16-team tournament Monday morning at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, with Minnesota Gray pulling away for a 5-2 win in the title tilt.

But the indelible, symbolic image of the tournament for BK Selects will undoubtedly be Greta Brezenski’s overtime game-winner in the semifinal round the day before. The 16Us trailed the Michigan-based powerhouse Little Caesars 2-0 entering the third, but goals from Lucia DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass.) and Morgan Walton (Geneseo, N.Y.) in the third forced extra time.

Not only did Brezenski’s in-tight strike deliver the 16Us’ first win over Little Caesars in two years, it also happened with most of the 19U team standing 10 feet away behind the glass.

“I was so zoned into the game,” said Brezenski (Waunakee, Wisc.), who also assisted on Walton’s short-handed equalizer. “I was so laser-focused on scoring. I did not want the season to end without our team proving just how great we are.”

The older group had been knocked out of the tourney the previous day by eventual national champion Little Caesars 19U, but that disappointment didn’t keep them from being there to start the party.

“We got back to the locker room,” DiGirolamo said, “and the 19s were waiting in there to celebrate with us. That’s just a fun thing I’ll remember forever. We are one program and I think having both teams there made a huge difference.”

“You don’t plan those moments, but they just happen,” Anderson said. “The ‘BK Family’ is what we talk about and the programs have really embraced that. It becomes bigger than the individual.”

Brezenski, who scored five goals and assisted on four others in six Nationals games, also notched the sudden-death winner in the final game of round-robin play, vanquishing the East Coast Wizards and allowing BK to finish tops in its four-team group.

Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont.) paced the national runner-ups with 10 points (3g, 7a), while twins Lucia and Angelina each netted four goals and three assists. Michaela Hesova (Hovorčovice, Czechia) started five of the six games, sporting a .902 save percentage.

Even counting the championship defeat, the 16Us won 18 of their last 20 games. Mind you, most of those games were played under postseason stress, plus the self-imposed pressure to deliver Bishop Kearney’s first girls hockey national title.

“We showed a lot of perseverance and resilience,” Brezenski said. “We were very much seen as the underdog by a lot of people and I don’t think they thought we would make the (national) final. I am so proud of us for showing everyone what the BK brand of hockey is.”

The fight for the top of an increasingly-deep girls hockey landscape will continue, with BK Selects one of a handful of programs who have proven to be there at the end year after year.

That, of course, goes for the 19Us as well. While head coach Paul Colontino’s group didn’t finish atop the nation, they did deliver another state championship along with two other tournament triumphs and a 44-17-3 overall record.

“Our last game was against the best, and we’re right there with them,” said Colontino, who wrapped his first season as Bishop Kearney’s VP of Hockey. “The part I liked was how hard we battled. A quarter-inch here and a quarter-inch there could’ve made a huge difference.”

Senior Laila Edwards (Cleveland Heights, Ohio/Wisconsin) wrapped up her BK career by leading the team with six points (1g, 5a) in four games. Junior Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla./Northeastern) scored the Selects’ lone goal of the semifinal and finished with three in the tournament, pacing the squad.

Junior goalie Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa./Wisconsin) was strong between the pipes while playing every minute of all four Nationals games, posting a .924 save percentage.

“I’m still really proud of the team and how we always stuck together,” said German-born senior forward Nina Christof, who will attend RPI in the fall. “It’s still without a doubt a major accomplishment. A lot of time we lose this view because we are so focused on becoming the national champion.

“Our coaches do a great job of making sure that we know no matter what happens at the end of the year, we had a great season and have evolved as a person as well as a hockey player.”

From the holistic perspective, 2021-22 was a banner year for BK. All six teams — both girls and boys — qualified for Nationals, with the 16U boys breaking through for the school’s first USA Hockey crown.

Furthermore, all six teams made the national quarterfinals, with three teams getting as far as the semis and two advancing to the final game of the season. On the trail to the summit, Bishop Kearney has set up a sizable base camp.

“The rate of growth is exponential,” Colontino said. “We’re really pleased with the success of the teams and the program as a whole. A fantastic season.”

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

They’re on to Pittsburgh: 19Us & 16Us Win States, Advance to Nationals

by Matt Gajtka

AMHERST, N.Y. — Their routes were different, but their results were the same. They’re on to Pittsburgh.

The BK Selects 19U and 16U girls hockey teams both reigned victorious last weekend at the Northtown Center, claiming New York state championships and accompanying berths in the upcoming national tournament.

While the 10th-ranked 19Us (39-15-3) swept the Buffalo Bisons in a two-game series to grab another banner — outscoring their in-state foe by a combined score of 14-0 — the seventh-ranked 16Us (45-12-5) had to survive a three-game round robin and two elimination matchups before they could follow suit.

But, again, the upshot is that both girls teams will again represent Bishop Kearney at nationals, which start March 31 in western Pennsylvania. Each squad has one more mountain to climb to reach its ultimate goal.

“We relied on everyone to do their part and stick to the plan,” said 16Us forward Angelina DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass.), who led the tournament with six goals and nine total points. “We were able to maintain our emotions, which played a big role in that.

“No matter what the score was or how much time was left we always relied on one another.”

There were several pivotal points over the weekend for the 16Us, which swept its round-robin games over Syracuse Nationals (4-0), Buffalo Bison (4-0) and Valley Eagles (4-2). In the last of those three, Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont.) and Rae Mayer (Chesapeake, Va.) scored power-play goals less than a minute apart in the third period to put BK Selects ahead for good and give them the top seed for the elimination rounds.

In a semifinal matchup against Syracuse, the situation was even more dicey entering the third, with the Nationals rallying from 3-1 down to carry a 4-3 lead after two. But Angelina DiGirolamo set up her twin sister Lucia (Woburn, Mass.) for the tying power-play goal four minutes into the final period, followed by a dramatic game-winner from Peyton Palsa (Annapolis, Md.) with two minutes left in regulation, assisted by McCarthy.

“We had some awesome third periods over the weekend,” said 16Us head coach Jake Anderson. “We’re getting more mature and more confident in each other. We’re staying the course even when the game isn’t going great.”

The Selects never trailed in the state final, a 3-1 win over Valley Eagles, but it was tight all the way through. Angelina DiGiorlamo scored twice, starting with a short-handed goal in the first period and capped by an empty-netter. Forward Greta Brezenski (Waunakee, Wisc.) netted a crucial score as well, giving the Selects a 2-0 lead halfway through the third.

Brezenski’s tally was the 16Us’ seventh power-play goal of the tourney on 21 opportunities, good for a 33 percent conversion rate on the biggest weekend of the season. Brezenski and Angelina DiGirolamo each scored two of those, with the latter adding three PP assists. McCarthy had three (1g, 2a) of her seven points on the advantage, as did Lucia DiGirolamo. Defender Megan Healy (South Burlington, Vt.) recorded four assists on the weekend, all on the power play.

“I’d say our ability to move the puck” was crucial, said Angelina DiGirolamo. “It causes the opposing team to get scrambled and you can really see the ice open up. As we do that, it creates a lot of chances to get a clear shot on net and get rebounds, too.”

Michaela Hesova (Hovorčovice, Czechia) and Emeline Grennan (Washington, D.C.) split the goaltending duties, with each earning a shutout in the round robin and each backstopping a win in the elimination round. Hesova, who started the final, stopped 51 of 54 shots for a .944 save percentage that ranked third in the event.

Anderson said the team was “primed” to peak in the late stages of the season and he felt the players turned a corner in January toward more cohesive play.

“We’ve grown up a lot,” Anderson said. “We’re taking pride in our own end and getting more mature. We’re playing some of our best hockey.”

The BK Selects 19Us gather around their third banner of the season. (BK SELECTS)

The same can be said for the 19Us, who in the past month have grabbed a pair of championships, starting with the Motor City Girls Fest in early February. Hoisting the New York crown wasn’t as arduous — it took two games as opposed to six — but the reality was simply this: The season was on the line against the Buffalo Bisons.

Game 1 was scoreless after one period, but defender Kendall Butze (Shaker Heights, Ohio/Penn State) scored a power-play goal off an assist from fellow Buckeye State senior Laila Edwards (Cleveland Heights, Ohio/Wisconsin) to put BK in front. Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla./Northeastern) scored an unassisted short-handed goal, her first of two tallies on the day, followed by another PPG in the third from Edwards.

Nineteen saves from Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa./Wisconsin) later, and the Selects were one win from nationals.

“I think the team executed as well as we did this weekend because of all the work we put in during the season,” Edwards said. “You could see we worked much harder as the year went along and we were more bought in against our opponent.

“That really set us up for success. I’m proud of this group.”

Much like the first game against Buffalo, Game 2 was close entering the second, with the Selects up just 1-0. Three goals in the second alleviated some stress, and a six-goal third left no doubt.

Edwards scored a goal and assisted on four others, giving her a team-high seven points (2g, 5a) on the weekend. Junior forward Olivia Rubenstein (Glencoe, Ill.) scored twice in the third, both assisted by Caroline Kee (McLean, Va./Wesleyan), who finished the tournament with three helpers.

All in all, nine BK Selects players earned multiple points on the weekend, and six more wrote their names on the scoresheet once. McNaughton denied all 27 shots she faced before Chloe Lewis (Monson, Mass.) took over for the final 23 minutes of the two-game sweep.

“It was great to see everyone dialed in and contributing,” 19Us head coach Paul Colontino said, noting that his team got a much-needed “reset” after going 1-3 on an otherwise-celebratory senior weekend.

“We got some rest and got refocused,” Colontino continued. “Now we’re focused on making sure we’re healthy and getting into great shape (for nationals).”

Both girls teams will have the next three weekends off from games as they prepare for the final step of the 2021-22 season. They’ll be one of 16 teams in the running for a national title in the greater Pittsburgh area.

Fortunately for the majority of this group, it’s not the first time they’ll be exposed to this kind of tension.

“It’s still nerve-wracking, but less nerve-wracking when you’ve been there a time or two,” Edwards said. “Going in, we have a good idea of what to expect.”

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

Senior Moments: BK Celebrates the Accomplished, Determined Class of ’22

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The New York state tournament is approaching on the horizon, set to begin this weekend.

But before the intensity ratcheted up to the highest level of the season, the Bishop Kearney Selects 19U girls team had an opportunity to celebrate its accomplished senior class.

The 11 members of the Class of 2022 were honored Saturday, Feb. 11 at Bill Gray’s Iceplex, in a pregame ceremony complete with banners on the glass, decorated locker stalls, photos with loved ones at center ice and a banquet afterward.

It was the centerpiece of a weekend that was bookended by a Friday dinner and a Sunday brunch. In short, it was the least the program could do for a group that has helped put BK Selects on the international hockey map.

“We basically celebrated the seniors through the weekend,” said 19U associate head coach/director of girls hockey Cari Coen, who coordinated the effort with the underclassmen.

“We made sure they got all the time they deserved for putting our program into the best place they can. It’s fun to see what legacy they’ve built and what they’ll leave behind.”

Pending the results of the upcoming postseason, the Class of ’22 has left behind a lot.

The group of 11 has already reached national championship games at the 16U and 19U levels, respectively, not even counting the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 scuttled what appeared to be another title-worthy playoff run.

Calli Arnold, Nina Christof, Caroline Kee, Sophia Nortz, Laila Edwards, Vanessa Stamper, Megan McKay, Ella Altiman, Kendall Butze, Liliana Moose and Brooke George will all move on in the spring, but they’ll depart knowing they created an impressive legacy.

“This group of leaders and seniors have sacrificed a lot to put the team and the program,” Coen said. “They’ve been hit with many adverse situations and they’ve met them head-on with grace and determination.”

Include the three fifth-year seniors — Edwards, Butze and Christof enrolled at Bishop Kearney in the fall of 2017 for their eighth-grade years — and the class has actually accounted for three trips to the national championship game.

Considering 2017-18 was just the second year of the girls program, the Class of ’22 has almost written the entire history of BK Selects.

“In terms of on-ice and off-ice our class is deep in talent and overall great people,” said Edwards, a forward from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who’s committed to the University of Wisconsin. “They’ve all represented what BK is trying to showcase.”

As expected for someone who’s been part of so much success on campus, Edwards said she felt some mixed emotions during the senior ceremony.

“Getting to celebrate with friends and family is the best thing you can ask for,” she said, “but it’s going to be hard to leaving this group of people.”

“It was very bittersweet! You wait for this moment your whole youth hockey career, then it actually comes. You’re happy, of course, but it’s very sentimental.”

Butze, a Penn State-committed defender from Shaker Heights, Ohio, confessed to similar emotions, particularly when hearing the “amazing” tribute speeches from classmates, Coen and head coach Paul Colontino at the Saturday postgame banquet.

“They were very special to hear,” Butze said, also noting the personalized decorations around the rink. “It was emotional because I’ve been here for five years, so it’s become a second home to me, and a second family.

“I think the biggest thing I took from the weekend was realizing there’s not a lot of time left to enjoy where I am, and that I can’t take any time left I have for granted.”

Loved ones hold up cardboard likenesses of BK seniors. (RICHARD COMPTON/BK SELECTS)

Make no mistake, either: The class is also determined to fill the one ‘gap’ in their collective résumé, if you could even call it that.

When asked how she hoped the Class of ’22 would be remembered, Christof kept it short and sweet.

“Hopefully, winning the first national championship!” she said.

A forward from Hammelburg, Germany, who will play at RPI next fall, Christof also couldn’t help but mention that the 19U’s three losses on senior weekend should provide extra fuel the next time the team plays a game.

“I think we could have played better,” she said, “but it was really special to be able to play in front of so many people who care so deeply about us.”

As far as the end of their BK Selects careers go, there’s only so much each individual player from the Class of ’22 can do. The competition in the state and, hopefully, national tournaments will be stiff and the games will almost certainly be close.

So, they’ll have to focus on the process in their final weeks wearing the black, red and white, with high hopes that the result they want will be their last on-ice memory at Bishop Kearney.

“I want to leave knowing the senior class created a good culture for everyone,” Butze said. “That we showed how hard we worked together as one unit, and how well we all got along.”

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

Masters of Motown: 19Us Claim Second Title of Season in Detroit

by Matt Gajtka

FRASER, Mich. — It’s not often a team gets a second chance at knocking off No. 1, but on Sunday afternoon at Big Boy Arena, the BK Selects 19Us had such an opportunity.

After falling 3-2 to top-ranked Little Caesars on Friday in the round-robin portion of the Motor City Girls Fest, the Selects struck back against the powerhouse Detroit-based program with a 3-0 victory in the championship game, earning their second tournament title of the 2021-22 season.

“When the chips were on the table and there was a championship at stake,” said 19Us head coach Paul Colontino, “the way our team responded was exceptional.”

Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa./Wisconsin) earned her fourth shutout of the weekend in the title tilt, stopping 37 Little Caesars shots. Due to an injury to Chloe Lewis (Monson, Mass.), McNaughton had to go it alone in what ended up being a six-game marathon.

“Little Caesars is always a physical, high-pressure game,” McNaughton said. “On Sunday, all I could think about was doing whatever I could for the team. I didn’t really realize how tired and sore I was until the bus ride after.”

In fact, McNaughton didn’t let a single goal in during the playoff portion of the tournament, as the eighth-ranked Selects (33-11-3) knocked out two other Michigan teams in Belle Tire (1-0 in the quarterfinals) and Honeybaked (3-0 in the semis).

“I loved how every player stepped up this weekend,” McNaughton said. “Every player put it all on the line for the team. It allowed us to come up with huge plays, whether it be penalty kills, power plays, blocked shots, big saves or outlasting an opponent’s pressure.

“It was super-exciting to see our team play better and better every game. To win the championship against a team we had lost to earlier was very fulfilling.”

Bella Vasseur (Waitsfield, Vt./Wisconsin) was similarly productive under the bright lights, scoring the Selects’ first (and only) goal against Belle Tire with a solo spinning effort, followed by a hard wrister from her off-wing against Honeybaked to put BK on top early in that one, too.

Much like the team, Vasseur rebounded from round-robin disappointment, as she was stopped on a last-minute penalty shot in the first meeting with Little Caesars.

“I was very excited,” said Vasseur about the chance to play Little Caesars with everything on the line. “It’s always a great game when we play them, and I knew the outcome was going to be different.

“It was a big revenge game.”

Vasseur also assisted on a Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla./Northeastern) rebound goal in the championship game, pushing the 19Us on top first yet again. They would require no further offense, although insurance was certainly welcomed against the nation’s top team.

Laila Edwards (Cleveland Heights, Ohio/Wisconsin) followed up her own breakaway for a 2-0 advantage, then Izzy Krause (Calabasas, Calif.) finished a two-on-one rush for the final goal, going far side after Vanessa Stamper (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) broke up a play in the neutral zone.

“The biggest thing was that we played as a team,” Vasseur said. “We worked as a team, had a lot of energy, and had a lot of fun doing it.”

Edwards scored a pair of goals on Sunday, deking around the Honeybaked goalie for a two-goal lead in the semifinal. She assisted on the victory-capper off the stick of Kendall Butze (Shaker Heights, Ohio/Penn State) as well.

But by the time the final buzzer sounded against Little Caesars, the details blurred into the background. The Selects poured off the bench to mob McNaughton and pose next to a banner that’ll look great next to the one they earned in Nashville back in the fall.

“Three days with two games per day, it’s a marathon,” Colontino said. “You need the depth of a team to do it. We were in a great position come Sunday to be fresh for the first game and then outwork our opponent in the final.”

The 19Us celebrate their Motor City Girls Fest title over Little Caesars. (RICH COMPTON/BK SELECTS)

The eighth-ranked 16Us (37-11-5) came this close to duplicating the 19Us’ feat, falling 3-2 to the Chicago Young Americans in a back-and-forth final.

Jake Anderson’s squad had outscored its first five opponents in the event by a combined total of 23-1, culminating in a 2-0 semifinal victory over Belle Tire. The highest-ranked team in the 16U bracket, No. 5 Little Caesars, had fallen to Belle Tire in the quarterfinal round

“That was probably our best game,” Anderson said of the semi. “First two periods, we came out flying, weren’t giving them anything, moving the puck and playing well in the O-zone. It was good for us to control the whole thing.

“We were able to use the depth of our team. We raised the level as the weekend went on and got through the semifinal game.”

Angela DiGiorlamo (Woburn, Mass.) scored five goals in the three-game playoff round, while Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont.) piled up a handful of points over those same games.

In goal, the 16Us alternated evenly between Emeline Grennan (Washington, D.C.) and Michaela Hesova (Hovorčovice, Czechia), with each earning two shutouts. Anderson said Hesova played well in the championship despite the loss, while Grennan was “awesome” in the semifinal.

“We just tried to focus on trying to get better every game,” Anderson said. “We wanted to get into the tournament and get everyone going. Now, can we play a little bit better, tighten this up and keep working.”

Along with the 19Us, the 16Us will stay in Rochester this weekend as they host a three-game showcase.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com for story tips and feedback.