BK Selects Girls Bring Back Pride, Medal from U-18 World Championship

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Young hockey athletes choose to play for BK Selects to grow their abilities and reach their potential.

Thing is, they don’t have to actually be wearing a white, black and red jersey to pursue those goals.

That was the case earlier this month for the eight members of the BK girls program — seven from the United States and one from Czechia — who competed in Sweden at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s annual Under-18 Women’s World Championship.

In fact, BK Selects was the program that contributed the most players to the Team USA U-18 roster, quite the accomplishment for an organization that didn’t exist a decade ago.

“The level of play at the international stage is the best you will get,” said Team USA alternate captain and BK Selects 19U defender Molly Jordan (Berlin, Conn. / Boston College). “It is fast, physical and extremely competitive. Every team and every player has something to prove, as well as a winning mindset.”

And while the United States fell two wins shy of a gold medal — they lost to the host nation, 2-1, in the semifinal round — the Stars and Stripes proudly took home bronze medals after a 5-0 defeat of Finland in the tourney’s third-place game.

“Preparing for the bronze-medal game was just as important,” Jordan said. “We came together as a team and got on the same page before the game, and made it clear that if we didn’t win this game we would go home empty-handed.

“Suiting up for a game that you didn’t initially want to be playing in is tough, but we did it as a team and played for something bigger than ourselves. I am proud of all of my teammates for representing the U.S. the way we did.”

The pride went both ways, of course. The returning players were greeted warmly at the Greater Rochester International Airport by a host of teammates, family members, coaches, support staff and BK boosters.

“It was honestly such an amazing welcome home,” said forward and Webster, N.Y. native Bella Fanale, the only 16U BK player to make Team USA. “It just shows the support system we have created at BK. We’re not just a program and a team, we’re all one big family. It made me so happy coming home to all my best friends, who are sisters to me.”

“It was very refreshing to see all of my teammates, coaches, teachers, and dorm moms at the airport,” Jordan said. “I am a new senior to BK this year, but this team is like my second family and knowing how much they all support us is unreal.”

Let’s just say that after a 35-hour travel gauntlet to get back across the Atlantic, any amount of hospitality would’ve been appreciated. But the presence of the welcome party stealthily assembled by Director of Girls Hockey Cari Coen, complete with local news cameras and promotion by Tipping Point Communications, sent the message that this was a celebration.

“It’s important to celebrate it when you win a medal at the international level,” Coen said. “We did something similar in the COVID year (2021) but we didn’t blow it up like the way we did here. For the growth of the game locally, to have people understand that we have one of the best programs, is big.”

American forwards Lucia DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass. / Princeton University) and Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont. / University of Wisconsin) paced the BK contingent offensively with two goals and an assist each, while Czech goalie Michaela Hesová (Hovorcovice, Czechia / Dartmouth College) also shined, posting the fourth-best save percentage of the tournament (.897) while starting four games.

This was the second IIHF U-18 experience for Hesová and McCarthy, both of whom were selected for the COVID-delayed 2022 edition held last summer in Madison, Wisconsin.

“I fed off of the ‘returner’ role, and felt that due to my position I was able to make a little more of an impact on my younger teammates,” McCarthy said. “I didn’t feel more responsibility as much as I felt confidence in my ability to play well.”

DiGirolamo scored the United States’ lone goal in the semifinal, and Fanale scored Team USA’s final goal of the tournament to cap the bronze-medal win.

In addition, Jordan was named to the media-selected All-Tournament Team, the only USA player to be so honored. She cited her hockey IQ, “lockdown” defensive play and offensive contributions as aspects of her game she was proud of during the stay in Sweden.

“I did everything in my power to put the spotlight on Team USA, and show everyone watching what a phenomenal team we were,” Jordan said. “I thank my teammates and coaches for always pushing me, because without them I wouldn’t have these kinds of opportunities.

“The pace at which the games are played is backed by tenacious efforts from every player on the ice. The pace of the tournament is addicting, and it leaves you wanting more.”

Now the task turns to the rest of the BK Selects season, both for Fanale’s 16Us and the 19Us, who welcome back McCarthy, Jordan, Hesová, Lucia DiGirolamo, Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla. / Northeastern University), Megan Healy (South Burlington, Vt.) and Rose Dwyer (Wynnewood, Pa. / Cornell University) for the stretch run.

While several of their teammates battled on international ice, a short-handed BK Selects 19U squad held up quite well in the Fort Laudy Daudy Showcase, going 3-2 against top competition in South Florida. The 16Us excelled, too, in posting a 4-1 mark that included wins over top-10 opponents Pittsburgh Penguins Elite and Detroit Little Caesars.

“It was a strong showing with limited players,” Coen said. “It’s about knowing you have more in your tank when you think you don’t.”

The next big benchmark for both girls teams arrives on the first weekend of February, when they travel to Detroit for Premier Ice Prospects’ Motor City Girls Fest. In the meantime, the second-ranked 19Us (33-6-4) and 11th-ranked 16Us (33-7-6) will take on seeding games for the upcoming postseason.

And for those who competed against the best in the world, the goal is to apply those lessons learned while wearing the BK shield.

“Every day you have to take it as a day to get 1 percent better and give it your all,” Fanale said. “One thing that stuck out to me (from the U-18s) is how important energy is on and off the ice. It’s contagious and makes a difference in team performance.

“Competing at that level forced me to make the simple play and taking that back to BK is very important for our team as we dominate when we work together and simplify the game.”

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

Photo credit of Bella Fanale: IIHF/USA Hockey