BY RANDY SCHULTZ –
The 2023-24 hockey season marks the start of a new era in KenGIPort girls varsity ice hockey.
For 13 seasons Jeff Orlowski was head coach of the team. During that time the team won seven Section VI Championships, appeared in the championship game nine times and are the current defending Section VI champions.
This year a familiar face replaces Orlowski behind the bench. Matt Miller has taken over as the new head coach of the KenGIPort team.
Miller is very familiar with his team because for the past 13 seasons he was an assistant coach under Orlowski.
“I’ve been a part of the team since its beginnings for a lot of the things that happen at the rink” recalled Miller. “But there is so much more to do behind the scenes.
“I’ve found that it’s trickier being the head guy because you have to make every little decision. I’ve been learning on the fly that there is a little more to being a head coach than what most people think.”
Miller has already found the 2023-24 hockey campaign to be quite interesting, to say the least.
“We were lucky to have very competitive tryouts,” said Miller. “The unfortunate side is that you have to make cuts.
“We’ve got a lot of depth this year. We can roll four lines. We can put a lot of pressure on teams with four lines. Plus, we don’t have to wear down and depend on just two lines.
“We try to spread the lines out and keep a quicker pace to our game. And we have lots of talent on the team.”
Miller also pointed out some of the key players on the team.
“Our top end is good with players like Isabelle Bourgeault (Kenmore West), Isabella Jayme (Grand Island) and Teegan Willats (Grand Island) and all the other girls that are back from last year.
“We have six returning players on defense too (including Savannah Samplinkski (Grand Island), Madeline Marzec (Kenmore West), Savanna Shaft (Lockport), Mylie Philbrick (Kenmore West), Natalie Kopf (Grand Island) and Alexa Denning (Kenmore West)).”
Miller also spoke of his goaltending.
“Sam (Samantha) Horne unfortunately played in the shadow of Carolyn Bourgeault for the past few seasons,” commented Miller. “Now she the girl. She’s solid in goal for us.”
“I think we’re strong at all six positions on the ice at any time. I think we’re pretty lucky to have such a deep team.”
How does Miller see the girls high school league shaking out this year?
“The Niagara County team is always a threat,” remarked Miller. “FLOP is another team that is deep and always comes at you with a lot of energy.
“HEWS was a team that took it to us last year. They have a lot of young talent.
“We know that we have our work cut out for us. We look forward to it.”
(Photos by Janet Schultz Photography/NY Hockey OnLine)
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