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.”
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.
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