Steel City Selects U16 girls squad battles hard at Nationals

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

A trip to San Jose, Calif., to compete at the USA Hockey Tier-II Under-16 Girls National Championships earlier this month was the opportunity of a lifetime for Steel City Selects players.

But after pool play concluded, the team was ranked fifth in the American bracket and was eliminated from the tournament.

“I'm not disappointed at all,” head coach Kate Michael said. “I think they played really well.”

In the first game of the tournament, the Selects were defeated, 6-0, by the Potsdam Icestorm. They struggled to get shots on goal, finishing with 6 to Potsdam's 27.

“That was a really tough game for us,” forward Hannah Cole said.

In the second game, the Selects defeated the Chicago Bruins. Forward Shelby Weaver scored the only goal of the game. It came very early in the first period, just 31 seconds into the game. Goaltender Connor O'Donnell made 38 saves in the shutout victory.

“We scored really early on a fluke goal and held it for the rest of the game,” O'Donnell said.

The Selects' third and final game of the tournament was a 5-0 loss to the host organization San Jose Jr Sharks. O'Donnell made 47 saves in the loss.

“It wasn't an easy win,” Michael said. “We gave them as much as we could.”

The regular season was a success for the Steel City Selects, with an overall record of 16-8-5. The competition in the league, however, was less talented than the players said they would have liked.

“We were in a section that was kind of below our skill level as a team,” O'Donnell said.

The players felt that the lack of competition contributed to the 6-0 loss against Potsdam.

“(We weren't) really prepared for (that level of) competition because during the regular season, we didn't play as competitive teams as we should have,” Cole said.

In November, the team played in the Pittsburgh Girls Thanksgiving Classic. The tournament featured more than 70 teams from the US and Canada. The experience showed the players that they needed to improve in order to qualify for Nationals.

“I think we lost every game,” Connor said. “We all mutually agreed that we needed to step it up.”

The 2013 Mid-Am District Girls Championship saw few teams sign up in the Tier II Girls U16 classification, so to qualify for Nationals, the Steel City Selects had just one game against the North Hills Vipers to prove that it should be the team to represent the district.

“We knew coming into it that they were pretty much at our skill level and that the game could go either way,” O'Donnell said.

“I think it played to our advantage,” Michael said. “We upset them. We were the better team that game.”

Rachel Cole scored the only goals in the 2-0 game.

“After the second period, it was very easy to start feeling confident that we were winning, but two goals in hockey is not that big of a deal, so we had to play offensively for a little bit and when we couldn't put any more pucks in the net…we started to make sure that we were playing defensively and putting the puck in deep,” Cole said.

“Throughout the entire game, we really had to push through and work hard for it in order to secure our place in Nationals,” O'Donnell said.

The season brought a number of unfamiliar experiences for the players. The team was largely new, and most of the players had not played at Nationals before or even traveled that far from home.

“It was really interesting this year because it was a bunch of brand new girls and at (the start of) the season, we didn't have a coach,” forward Lindsey Gorman said. “Throughout the year, she definitely became that coach that we really needed.”

“(Coach Michael) inspired me to become the best that I could be,” Hannah Cole said.

The players are looking forward to building off of what they were able to accomplish.

“Hopefully next year we'll move on and build from it and be able to progress more as a team,” O'Donnell said.

Amanda Iannuzzi is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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