BY RANDY SCHULTZ – Fifteen years.
That is how much time had passed since Rick Hopkins had been in the Williamsville School District’s Board of Education Room. Girls high school ice hockey was the topic for both visits, but with 180 degree change in reasoning for being there.
On this particular recent night, the Girls Ice Hockey Team was being honored for their accomplishments for the 2018-19 season. It was a different story 15 years earlier.
“Fifteen years ago I had a meeting with Dr. Rusin and I talked with him about what we had to do girls varsity ice hockey on the ice,” said Hopkins, head coach of the Williamsville Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Team. “It took five more years before it became a reality and the first puck dropped.
“I was in this same room 15 years ago, but I didn’t do any speaking that night. Tonight I’m here to talk and to talk about a team that brought it together at the right time and won the Section VI title as well as the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association tournament for girl’s ice hockey.
“Not only are these girl’s champions on the ice but they are champions off of it as well. Plus, it takes a community to build a championship team. And we have that here in Williamsville.”
This was a hockey team that overcame huge odds. This Williamsville Girl’s Ice Hockey team won five elimination playoff games in a period of six days.
Add to that the fact that Williamsville won the NYS championship in overtime on Jenna Cavalieri’s goal just three minutes and 12 seconds into OT. That gave Williamsville a 5-4 win over Section III champion, Skaneateles. All of this in front of at hometown crowd at Buffalo’s HarborCenter.
On this night in front of the Williamsville Board of Education and parents, one person was missing.
“Dr. Rusin would have been very proud of this team’s accomplishments,” added Hopkins, the only head coach the Williamsville Girls’ Varsity Ice Hockey Team has ever had. “Without his vision we wouldn’t be here talking about this championship team.”
Interestingly, the captain of that first Williamsville Girls Varsity Ice Hockey team was Shauna Clair, who is now an assistant coach with the same team under Hopkins.
What is even more interesting is that six of the players on this year’s Williamsville team were not even born when the idea for a girls’ high school hockey team was discussed for the first time.
Maybe it was Elisabeth Sidorski who summed everything up the best. A captain on the team, this was Sidorski’s sixth season of play for Williamsville, having played her first season as a seventh grader.
“Our team consisted of girls from three high schools and two middle schools this year,” said Sidorski. “I think it’s incredible how a team like ours came together and played the way we did this year.
“Having lost several seniors off of our team from last year, many thought we wouldn’t do that well this year. But we decided to write our own story this year.
“Before we stepped on the ice to start our Section VI game against FLOP, Coach Hopkins brought us together in a circle and had us hold hands. It was a little awkward at first, but it soon became obvious what Coach Hopkins intentions were.
“A circle is unbreakable and just like that circle, so is this team. We share such a powerful family bond that nobody can break down and our connection would never falter.
“From that moment on we were destined to beat the defending State Champions and win not only for ourselves, but for our coaches as well.
“Everyone played their part in our team’s success. Coach Hopkins has never doubted our abilities the entire year.
“Nothing made me happier than to watch Coach Hopkins face light up as he watched the team win the State Championship. At that moment I was more satisfied winning it for him than I was for myself.
“We did something that we can be proud of the rest of our lives. Nobody can ever take it away from us.”