BY RANDY SCHULTZ –
“More growth. Every year we try to get a little bit better.
“We set our goals to be a little bit better than the year before. Last year we had an 11-4 record and we won a playoff game.
“We’re looking at improving on that this year. Finish at the top of the league and maybe win a few more playoff games.”
That is how Niagara County Girls Varsity ice hockey team head coach, Greg Grosskopf described the upcoming season for this team. Now in their fifth season of play in the Western New York Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Federation (WNYGVIHF), the Lady Warriors have shown improvement in each of the previous four campaigns.
The 2018-19 season was a memorable one for the Niagara County team. It began on the night of Feb. 12, 2018 when a group of 12 parents and students representing a proposed Starpoint High School girls ice hockey team, made their presentation to the Starpoint Board of Education.
Like most new teams, there were struggles along the way. Raising money to cover extra expenses was one. But that was highlighted with a $1200 contribution made by ESPN NHL analyst, John Buccigross.
Nine months later, November 26, 2018, that Niagara County girls varsity hockey team, comprised on players from Starpoint and Niagara Wheatfield high schools, played its first official game at the Hockey Outlet Ice Arena in North Tonawanda at 5:41 p.m. against Monsignor Martin.
Although they lost, 9-3, it was a night of firsts for the NC girls. The first goal scored for NC was by Madison Mallone, a 7th grader from Starpoint. Natalie O’Brien added two more goals in a losing cause.
Infact, that Niagara County team would not win a game that season, tieing just once. But they were certainly on their way.
“That was an interesting year, to say the least,” recalled Grosskopf. “We were trying to get as many girls on board as we could.
“We only had girls that year from Starpoint and Niagara Wheatfield. We didn’t have any girls from Lew-Port or North Tonawanda yet.
“I have to give the girls a lot of credit, especially trying to get everyone on the same page and working towards the same goal. We didn’t win any games that year, but we sure grew as a team that year.”
Grosskopf remembered those first few weeks of the season.
“Our first few games we were not great and we were getting blown out,” said the NC coach. “I knew it was going to be rough that first year. But by the end of the year teams had to take us a bit more seriously.
“We were already building at that point in time. And we were beginning to gain respect around the league.”
The team was chosen the “Team of the Year” for the 2018-19 season at the Hasek’s Heroes banquet held in Buffalo, NY. Quite an honor for a team that didn’t win a single game that year, but played their hearts out throughout the season, never giving up. They were recognized for their continued perseverance.
It was equally as emotional the following season when the team won its first hockey game. Ever.
“We had girls crying after that game,” remembered Grosskopf. “It was amazing.
“They were so overjoyed to see where we had started and then to see all that hard work paying off. We all could see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Grosskopf pointed out a handful of players that carried the team its first four seasons.
“There was Natalie O’Brien and Skylar Berube,” commented the NC head coach. “There was Julie Gerspach in that first year. She provided good leadership.
“There have been the parents over the four seasons as well that have helped build this team and support it. They were there for us through thick and thin.
“In the end all the girls pulled together to make the season.”
There is one thing that Grosskopf pointed out about the other coaches that have worked with him.
‘We enjoy coming to the rink and working with these girls,” remarked Grosskopf. “All the coaches try and make it fun for the girls.
“We’re trying to build more than wins. We’re trying to build character and to have good memories that will last with them forever.”
And it seems as though those good memories keep getting better and better every year.
(Photos by Janet Schultz Photography/NY Hockey OnLine)