Photos courtesy of Janet Schultz | Cover design courtesy of Ciaran Edwards
High school girls hockey in Western New York is here to stay.
That was the resounding feeling shared by those in attendance Tuesday afternoon at Northtown Center as the WNY Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Federation kicked off its 10th season of play.
“It’s special for the whole league,” said Williamsville coach Rick Hopkins, who is also the league’s chairman. “Even after the league was approved there were some administrators who were doubters that said ‘once the novelty wears off, you’ll be lucky to get two or three years.’ When you’ve been around for a decade, it’s not an accident. It means that there’s growth and solid dedication there. It’s not just the players and coaches, but the athletic directors, principals, and school boards that continually fund this great sport.”
The league isn’t going to let this moment pass by. They’ll be honoring those original parents and supporters who led the effort to start the Girls Fed by inviting them to take part in ceremonial faceoffs to start the season.
In a replay of the first-ever Girls Federation game in 2010, Williamsville and Monsignor Martin met Tuesday.
Annmarie Gajewski was one of the original parents from Monsignor Martin chosen to take part in the puck drop before the game.
“It was very emotional,” Gajewski said of being on the ice Tuesday. “Not that any of us did it for recognition but it was kind of cool to get the recognition because we did put a lot of work into it.”
In a showing of how far the league has come, the two players who took the ceremonial faceoff for the inaugural game, Shauna Clair (Williamsville) and Kirsten Spulecki (Monsignor Martin), who are now assistant coaches for their respective teams, returned to center ice with Gajewski and the other pioneering parents to take part in another celebratory puck drop.
“I remember pushing for (a girls hockey team),” Clair said. “So just being able to finally put on a jersey and having it come to life was the best. We can’t believe it’s been that long and the league has grown so much.”
As of today, the WNYGVIF has sent dozens of alumni to play at the next level, including five professionally. Additionally, Section VI has won the last two state championships.
“Every year it gets better,” Spulecki said. “It’s so fast now and it’s so different from when we started. Back then, the level of competition was lower and there was such a big difference between the teams. Now the teams are even and they all can compete.”
Unlike the game back in 2010, Clair and her team got the better of Spulecki as Williamsville scored three unanswered earning the 3-1 season-opening victory over Monsignor Martin.
Carys Popat scored the first goal of the landmark season giving Monsignor Martin the 1-0 lead at the first intermission.
Williamsville tied things up in the second period when Ellie Schau scored on a breakaway.
Aizah-Rose Thompson gave Williamsville the lead just 50 seconds into the third and Vanessa Willick sealed it with seven minutes left.
“It was really awesome just getting to remember the past,” Williamsville captain Emma Roland said. “The fact that I was able to play in eighth grade because these people fought for this league is awesome.”
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