By Janet Schultz, NYHOL
Photos by Janet Schultz©
Walking into any arena, on any day, there’s a chance you will find someone you have known for years continuing their love of hockey in a new capacity.
Eight years ago Ana Orzechowski played in a fairly new league, the Western New York Girls Varsity Ice Hockey League for the Kenmore/Grand Island team. Today you will find her behind the bench of a new junior hockey team, the Buffalo Stampede playing out of Cornerstone Arena in Lockport.
Orzechowski started playing at age four with the Tonawanda Lightning. After her Dad saw her “get her bell rung” she moved from the Buffalo Bisons Boys team to the Bisons Girls 10U team and played through 14U winning several championships along the way.
When many of her Bison’s team headed to Nichols School, her and a teammate took to the northern route playing for the Burlington Barracudas before heading back to Kenmore for her senior year and making an impact on the Kenmore/Grand Island Girls Varsity Team. Then it was off to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for four years. She also played for the NJPE 19U and Pittsburgh Penguins Elite.
Orzechowski, who played defense, is the assistant coach for this exciting group of players in the United States Premier Hockey League.
“This is something I wanted to do, to give back to the game,” said Orzechowski. “I played through four years of college and one year in the pros. I played my whole life.”
“It is something I always wanted to do,” she continued. “My Dad was a coach with the Buffalo Thunder and I was always around him. I knew I’d end up behind the bench whether here or with girls, or even on my own kids team when I have them.”
She find coaching this group of young men exciting.
“They are funny, the things that come out of their mouths is way different than girls,” she said smiling.
“I truly love it and they have a great deal of respect for me and my thoughts and ideas and I appreciate that.”
In return she has a great deal of respect for the players, the things they have to do and the plays they have to make.
“From start to finish, it’s about having fun,” she wants players to know.
She compliments the great coaches she has had, including her father, who brought her along last year while he was coaching.
“I just continued to have fun and give back to support the team.” she remarks.
Her experiences are what makes her a qualified coach.
She went from high school to college to the pros and saw the skill and tempo increase which each step.
“There are so many great and amazing women hockey players out there. Being able to share the ice with them was gratifying and humbling,” she continued. “You may think you have it all but someone is always working harder and trying to get better; that makes you work harder to get better.
Players may set their sites on the future, but Orzechowski wants each one to have fun and realize the sacrifices they may have to make to achieve the collegiate and pro goals.
“I missed a lot of birthday parties, formals and dances, but I had a lot of fun along the way and I knew that was what I wanted to do,” she said.
The best thing about her career was returning to play in front of her hometown when she was selected from a free agent camp to play for the NWHL Buffalo Beauts.
“Playing in my own backyard again with people I know and having my coaches coming to watch was important to me,” she said.
While playing for RPI in Albany, she was only five hours away; but still a distance that friends and family weren’t always able to travel to.
Orzechowski hadn’t planned on playing for the Beauts, it was one of those things that just happened.
She was back home after graduating from RPI when the Beauts manager called and asked her what her plans were. She headed off to Free Agent Camp with no expectations and ended up having the best year of hockey in her life.
Then the opportunity arose for her to go behind the bench with the Stampede and she took it, giving her an avenue to help shape another group of hockey players.
“I will do this for as long as possible,” she said.
The Buffalo Stampede are part of the USPHL that has teams in 24 states. The League is committed to advancing players to the college and/or professional level of hockey.
While they play divisional competitions, they also focus on playing inf showcases around the country. This is the first season for the Buffalo Stampede.
Their schedule and roster can be found at www.buffalojrstampede.com