BY RANDY SCHULTZ –
With the exception of one game, Anna Meyer has been the starting goaltender for the Williamsville girls high school hockey team this season.
But more on Meyer a little later. How she became the team’s starting goalie is the more interesting story.
Williamsville girls high school hockey head coach, Rick Hopkins, knew coming into tryouts for the upcoming 2022-23 hockey season the team was missing one key position.
“We found out in August that we didn’t have a goalie for this upcoming season,” stated Hopkins, now in his 13th season as head coach of the Williamsville girls high school hockey team. “We thought that someone would step forward, maybe a house league player, a select team goalie or someone that we weren’t aware of.
“Being the optimist that I am, I figured we had some time. It was August and tryouts weren’t until November.”
But when the first day of tryouts came in November there were two things that Hopkins and the rest of the team noticed.
“The first was no goalie,” remarked Hopkins. “The second was that it was the smallest team we had ever had tryout with only 17 skaters.”
After two tryouts there were still no goalies.
“That’s when Molly Martin talked to me and said she would volunteer,” said Hopkins of his 2022 All-League defenseman. “Then Shannon Pogorzala and Sophia DePrima stepped up.
“The trio told me they would rotate the goaltending duties. I knew that would be a huge challenge.”
Then, in the team’s final practice before their opening game of the season, Meyer stepped up and volunteered.
“She came to me and said that she would be goalie,” recalled Hopkins. “At that moment there was a sigh of relief from the whole team, including players and the coaching staff.”
For Meyer, who was originally trying out with the team as a defenseman, it seemed like the logical thing to do.
“I was a freshman, I volunteered and my dad talked me into it,” recalled Meyer, the daughter of Rob and Sabrina Meyer. “I knew that I would be around with this team for the next few years.
“My brother used to play the position when he was in squirt hockey. So we had the equipment.
“So it seemed like the logical thing for me to do.”
Meyer remembered that opening game of the season and the first she ever started in goal. It was an 8-1 loss to the Niagara County Warriors, with Meyer giving up all eight goals.
“All I remember is that my dad was always standing behind me in the corner,” commented Meyer, who has a younger brother, Robert “Jack” Meyer. “After every shot I would look over at him and he would just look at me and tell me to ‘focus on the next shot. Focus on the next shot.’
Despite her rough start, Meyer was working on becoming a better goaltender. That included going to Bob Janosz’s school of goaltending.
“We were very familiar with the Janosz clinics because my brother had gone to him,” recalled Meyer, who is a freshman attending Williamsville East High School. “Going to Janosz helped me with my footwork and positioning.
“I also learned how to be square to the puck and how to angle the puck. I learned how to properly use my glove, blocker and stick.”
But the one thing that has really helped Meyer throughout the season is the tremendous support her teammates have giving her.
“They have been so supportive and kind about the whole situation,” remarked the 14 year-old Meyer. “On the ice, they are cheering for me all the time.
“Even when I make the world’s most easiest save, they’re rooting their heads off for me. It’s been amazing.”
A season that looked bleak at the beginning of the season, has really turned around with the team finishing with a winning record and Meyer coming quite steady in goal. But Meyer even had a bonus.
“I touched the puck that went to Molly Martin took and went down the ice and scored,” said Meyer. “So I picked up an assist on the play.”
After being a skater for several years and playing defense, Meyer has learned a lot about his old position.
“I’ve learned a lot from Molly Martin and Shannon Pogorzala, who play defense,” commented Meyer, who finished the regular season with a record of 9-5-1, a .862 save percentage and a 3.21 goals-against-average with two shutouts. “If I lose site of the puck, they will yell to me which side the puck is on.
“They’ll also tell me if I have the puck covered if I’m on top of it and can’t see it. All of my teammates on defense help me.
“The whole team has helped me. It’s been great.”
So what about next season?
“I’ll come back as a goalie, if they want me to and if I’m needed,” answered Meyer. “I’ll be a skater and play defense if they want.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
Coach Hopkins summed up the Meyer goaltending situation.
“I’ve told her how proud I am, along with the team, of her,” concluded Hopkins. “She stepped forward to play a position that she had never played before.
“What is important here is that she wanted to do it. I was glad she had been a defenseman.
“She had the experience of skating backwards and seeing the ice from a goalie’s perspective. She had tremendous support from her family.
“She got equipment from her family, as well as our coaching staff and former players. And her first official practice with our team was the five-minute warm-up the team got before our first regular-season game.
“Anna has such a passion and she has worked so hard. Even after she gave up eight goals in that first game, she was smiling in the lockerroom after the game.
“That’s when I knew she had it. She had what it takes mentally to play the position.
“The team has played so hard in front of her. Anna was an inexperienced goalie.
“Now she’s an experienced goalie. Anna’s got what it takes.
“It’s been a special year for all of us thanks to Anna and a great team effort.”
(Photos by Janet Schultz Photography; NY Hockey OnLine)