As the host city for the upcoming 2009 USA Hockey girls national championships, all Rochester Edge hockey teams were granted a spot in nationals. Receiving a free pass wasn't good enough for the girls on the Rochester Edge 14U travel team. Rather than being on the receiving end of a berth to nationals solely based on being host, these 17 girls have dominated both sides of the ice,
outscoring their opponents 299-123 while running up a 48-14-4 record, with only one loss coming to a United States team. The clincher came in early March during states when Rochester defeated teams from Buffalo (3-1) and Syracuse (6-0) to cement its status as a worthy participant in nationals. All of this started innocently enough for the Edge who, like most youth squads, had to incorporate new members and deal with the loss of some veterans. The key to their stellar performance? "Well we had a lot of team sleepovers, and that team bonding helped us a lot," said center Anna Zorn, 15, a Churchville-Chili freshman in her second year on the 14U team, which is for girls born in 1994 or 1995. When asked to elaborate on which get-togethers helped the team most, Anna quickly points to the Rochester Edge camp, when the girls played hockey from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for one week at the ESL Sports Centre before the season started. "Our off-ice work shows so well on the ice and it proves that we just work a lot harder and better as a team," Anna said. "Because of those early season sleepovers and the Rochester Edge camp we all understand each other better and know where everyone will be on the ice. We can compete with any team in the country and we have a great opportunity to win nationals." An opportunity that required these girls, many of whom have played hockey since they were 5 or 6, to put in hard work and dedication. Practices were intense but the girls saw the benefits almost immediately. Rochester swept all five games to claim the Ohio Flames Tournament in September to start its season and went 8-0-1 during its first nine exhibition contests, many against older teams.
While the girls felt they had the talent necessary to compete, the ride to nationals wasn't without its share of obstacles. The Edge lost its first two Lower Lakes Girls League games, and three of its first five before rebounding to win 13 consecutive league contests. "It's been really impressive seeing the younger girls on the team step up and play at a higher level," said defenseman Erika Bronk, 15, a Fairport resident and Mercy freshman who has played with the 14U's for two years. "Our defense is strong, but we have work to do. We're just going to step it up for nationals but right now we qualified because we're talking more on the ice and everyone understands their role and what they need to do with the puck."
Allison Palum is one of those impressive younger players. In her first year with the team, Allison and fellow goalie Margaret Janiga (East Aurora) have combined for 15 shutouts while providing leadership and stability as the Edge search for the program's first national championship. The adjustment to playing up was difficult for Allison, who was one of the oldest girls on her 12U team before moving up to the 14U squad, but she's become better at stopping harder shots, keeping her gloves up and focusing on where the puck is after its been shot. "I know the girls I'm playing with are some of the best players in the country, so I know if I can stop their shots, I can do anything and stop anybody's shots," said Allison, 13, a Brighton resident and Twelve Corners Middle School eighth-grader "My first thought after winning states was we actually do deserve to go to nationals, and now we're not just getting a free ride."
Before the potential of their season could be realized, the Edge girls had to overcome a mid-season scoring drought during which the team wasn't utilizing its point players. With some extra practice time spent on flow and passing drills, Abbey Cook and the forwards/centers were able to regain their scoring touch. "Our offense has really gotten better, we move the puck well and we cycle it around faster," said Abbey, 15, a Fairport resident and Fairport High freshman who plays forward for the Edge. "My hands have improved a lot and I have better puck control, too. ... I'm really nervous for nationals; it's a mix between nervous and excitement, but we're all excited just to see how it goes." Added Erika: "We weren't incorporating the points into our offense, so when we started doing that, right away our scoring went up. By playing with all five girls we make the other team move around more and ultimately we dominate play."
Among the impressive accomplishments this season: these girls advanced to the semifinals of the Connecticut Polar Bear Tournament in December before losing to the eventual champions. The Edge also was a finalist in the Syracuse tournament and their own Fire on Ice tournament.
The Edge opens up against the Colorado Selects team at noon Wednesday on ESL's rink No. 1. Rochester's 14U's will also play the Syracuse Stars and Honeybaked (Oak Park, Mich.). Semifinals are Saturday and the national championship game is Sunday. "Usually the host team gets a pass into nationals, and they'll get crushed in the competition," said Jeff Kolcon, head coach of the 14U's. "But these girls knew what they had to do to qualify and they weren't satisfied just being invited. They wanted to show they belong, and they definitely do."
In addition to Erika, Anna, Allison and Abbey, the team also includes Kathy Donohue (Rochester), Alyssa Brockman (Fairport), Cassy Opela (Penfield), Liz Marks (Penfield), Victoria Benson (Webster), Jenny Ryan (Victor), Maggie Kolcon (Pittsford), Hayley Peets (Pittsford), Hayley Scamurra (Getzville), Margaret Janiga (East Aurora), Marissa Janiga (East Aurora), Emily Janiga (East Aurora) and Morgan McKim (Mars, Pa.). Kolcon and Lloyd Palum coach the team.
Rochester's 12U Pee Wee team, 16U Midget team and 19U Midget team all open nationals Wednesday against Colorado Selects.