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 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.”
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