Freshman DeNardo leading Vulcans hockey
An 8-year-old Kelsey DeNardo had her introduction to the game of hockey delivered to her doorstep.
Stephen Walkom — a neighbor and NHL referee — showed up one day with a pair of skates and a desire to introduce DeNardo to the game of hockey with his daughter.
Eleven years later, DeNardo is having a breakout season with the California (Pa.) women's hockey club.
The freshman is the Vulcans' top scorer — accounting for 16 goals and six assists — as California has racked up a 14-2 mark, the best start in club history.
“I didn't think I would do as well as I am,” DeNardo said. “I contribute a lot of it to my linemates Alli (Paratore) and Megan (Cooper). They have helped me reach my potential on and off the ice.”
California is a member of the Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference's Ashley Moyer Memorial Division — also home to Delaware, Slippery Rock, Villanova and West Chester. The DVCHC is a member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association's Division II. The division also features teams representing Penn State, Iowa State, Connecticut, Michigan State and the University of Alaska.
As a senior at Bishop Canevin, DeNardo knew she would be attending California to obtain a degree in education but was torn on continuing to play soccer or hockey. Eventually her passion for the ice won out.
“I decided to go to California for academics,” DeNardo said. “Playing hockey is just a bonus.”
The forward said as a Vulcan she has noticed an increase in the level of competition compared to what she has faced.
She credited her time playing on travel teams — including most recently the Steel City Selects, where she was a captain who led the team to the USA Hockey's MidAmerican District Tournament title — for her ability to adjust to the college level.
“It was definitely a big step,” DeNardo said. “The players have a higher skill level, and the girls we face now are bigger, stronger and faster than what I have faced in the past. But we work a lot as a team. My teammates, and especially the other rookies, work out constantly so it has been an easier adjustment.”
The Vulcans finished the first half of the season with a 3-1 mark in December. California defeated Michigan State twice — by scores of 7-0 and 2-1 — and Slippery Rock, 3-2, before a 5-0 loss to Chatham — an NCAA Division III program. DeNardo had five goals and two assists during the stretch.
The Vulcans do not return to the ice until they host Villanova on Jan. 26. DeNardo said that there is a concern of losing the momentum they have built up, but the team is looking to skate together as much as possible in addition to the mandatory ice time the coaches have instilled during the break.
“We don't want to lose the chemistry we have built,” DeNardo said. “We are going to try and get on the ice as a team as much as possible. We don't want to come back in January as a big mess and have to remesh.”
After California returns to play, it will have six games until the DVCHC playoffs start. If the Vulcans can advance through the conference tournament, they will head to the ACHA national tournament.
“Our biggest goal is to make it to nationals,” DeNardo said. “We want to finish the season out on top of the league standings. We are really focused on getting to nationals and competing. It is what we work for every day.”
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-388-5813.