Sewickley's Bodine competes in America's Showcase

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

This marks the first year the USA Hockey America's Showcase has featured girls teams.

The tournament, held at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center, is in its fourth year in Pittsburgh. The prestigious event, which features 20 boys and six girls teams comprised mostly of high school juniors and seniors from around the country, draws attention from a large number of college and junior hockey scouts.

So, Sewickley's Melissa Bodine was thrilled to get a chance to participate in the event for Team Mid-American.

“It's pretty cool that they're starting to do it now for the girls,” she said. “We only had one practice together, but we got along well.”

Bodine was one of four girls from Pennsylvania on the squad. The others were Samantha Smith, Eleni Rapp and Olivia Stokes. Bodine was teammates with those three with the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Under-16 team as well.

“It was nice knowing some other girls on the team right away,” she said.

Team Mid-American, which featured nine girls from Ohio, two from Indiana and one from Washington as well, went 1-0-2. The squad beat Team Rocky Mountain, 4-1, and tied New England, 2-2 and Pacific, 1-1.

“It was definitely fun,” Bodine said. “There were some good girls out there. It's some good competition.”

Bodine, a 5-foot-8 defenseman, faced strong competition all year. She played for the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite program, helping the team to a 15-20-10 record. The Chicago Fury eliminated the Penguins from the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League playoffs.

“It was a lot of fun. Girls, we can't keep up with boys because they're stronger than us once we get to a certain age,” she said. “So, to play on a competitive level with girls is great.”

The squad traveled to some prestigious tournaments and even hosted one of its own — the Girls Thanksgiving Classic. That tournament drew 69 of the best teams from across the United States and Canada.

“That was great. It's a huge tournament. It's really fun to play in,” Bodine said. “We went 2-3, but we played all good teams.”

Bodine prides herself on her defensive abilities. However, she's working at becoming more involved in the offensive rush.

“I have been working on that because my coaches try to get me to be more aggressive,” she said. “My skating is a strength; I am pretty fast. I took a lot of power skating classes when I was little and that definitely helped me.”

Penguins Elite Under-16 coach Chuck Fink knew Bodine was a reliable part of the team's defense.

“She is a stay-at-home defenseman, but she has a very good stride and she's a very fast skater. She wasn't beaten all year; she was just very solid,” he said.

Bodine was a leader on the blue line.

“She is very soft spoken and very team oriented. She's very smart and has a good head on her shoulders,” Fink said. “She is very quiet, but very well liked. She was kind of the backbone of our defensive corps this year. She is probably the most improved player I have seen over the past year.

“She is much stronger on the puck than she was two years ago. Her read and reaction and anticipation got much better. She just knows how to read the game.”

Bodine enjoys hockey's tactical aspect. While watching the Penguins and other NHL games, she studies the defensemen, especially Pittsburgh's Paul Martin.

“I really try to pay attention to the details,” she said. “I watch the defense a lot, probably Paul Martin the most. He's really smart. A lot of people probably don't understand how smart he is on the ice.”

Overall, Fink was pleased with the Pens Elite's season and Bodine's improvement.

“It was a solid year, but disappointing at the end in the playoffs,” he said. “At the end of the day, everyone improved and got better and that's the name of the game. I expect Melissa to keep improving and play on more good teams and also in college someday, as well.”

Bodine will go back to work preparing for the next season.

“I definitely need to work on my stickhandling and getting a harder shot and getting stronger,” she said. “It's just a matter of putting in the time and working on it.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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