by Janet Schultz, NYHOL
One of my favorite scenes in “White Christmas” is the sister act performed by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen where they say “Sisters, Sister there were such devoted sisters.” That describes five sets of sisters playing in the Western New York Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Federation.
Three sets are on one team, Hailey and Morgan Cooper, Hanna and Kelsey Barrett, Elizabeth and Kathryn O’Brien all play for Coach Eric Cooper on the Hamburg/Eden/West Seneca team. Over at Monsignor Martin are the Honadle sisters, Reese and Ryan and at Kenmore/Grand Island are Isabelle and Carolyn Bourgeault.
This is the first time the Coopers have played together on the same team.
“I think it’s fun, going to practice every day with her is fun and I knowing her helps,” said Hailey.
Both started their hockey careers with Hamburg and then Hailey headed to the Buffalo Bisons. Both play defense and that is the position Hailey likes.
“I like taking the puck away from people, you are like a second goalie and you are there to protect the net,” said Hailey. “Our Dad was a defenseman and so he put us in that position; but I personally really like defense.”
Morgan agrees, defense is there to help the goalie keep the puck out of the net.
All the sisters agree that they have each others backs during the game, they encourage each other and feel they are the most truthful about how each other plays.
Reese and Ryan admit that if one of them is not playing well, the other one will most likely yell something from the bench.
“Ryan has stood up and yelled ‘what’d you do that for’, to me, “ said Reese. “You will see us bicker sometimes, and you can hear it; but we know we have each others support.”
The O’Briens agree.
They started playing hockey when they ended up in a Learn Hockey rather than Learn to Skate program and fell in love with the sport. Their family are huge Sabres fans and they began watching the game at a young age.
“i like to laugh at her for everything she does wrong,” said Kathryn.
“We chirp at each other,” said Elizabeth.
However, as twins they can finish each others sentences, know what each other is thinking and always find a way to do things as individuals as well as together.
“We have played together and against each other,” said Hanna. “There is a difference when you are sitting on the bench watching rather than being on the ice at the same time. When we are on the ice at the same time, we always try to help each other improve our game.”
“It was fun when we were younger,” said Kelsey. “But now that we are older it is a little bit different. We are playing against older girls with a different style of play, a more in-the-face game.”
“Sometimes we get into arguments but it’s always a learning experience,” said Morgan. “You can always learn from your older sister or your younger sister through what they have done and what you could do better.”
All of the girls agree that while they sometimes yell at each other, the other may say “you might do better next time,” and in the end it all works out.
The Bourgeaults played together in the early years of their hockey career, but then position (Carolyn is a goalie, Isabelle, a forward) and age separated them. They reconnected in Varsity hockey when Isabelle became a seventh grader.
““It’s fun having Izzy play with me,” said Carolyn. “We have each others back on the ice, make jokes and there is a bond. We even have a hand shake.”
“Having Carolyn in goal is really cool,” said Isabelle. “I trust her and like having her with me. If I mess up she is there.”
While the honesty can sometimes seem mean,it’s not; it’s all done with love and support for each other.
“Izzy gets her advice mainly from the players who are older and in the same position,” said Carolyn. “But we do talk to each other between periods, on the way home and at practice.
“I see everything, “ said Carolyn. “So I can see where she could do better.”
The same goes for Isabelle who can get frustrated when Carolyn misses and lets in a goal.
“I think I am harder on her because I am her sister,” said Isabelle.
While you may think that the highlight of hockey is playing the game on the ice or scoring, it’s actually the travel and the being together that is the most fun.
“Running around the hotels with teammates, being in the locker room with the music blasting and the long-term friendships you make is what I enjoy,” said Reese. Both her and Ryan have made friends at a young age that are still their best friends today.
“One game some of our jerseys didn’t come in on time so we used our old jerseys,” said Ryan. “With five O’Briens on the ice, even our parents couldn’t tell us apart!”
For the Bourgeaults, it is a combination of travel, seeing other parts of the country, the friendships they have built and the memories they are making with teammates.
“In school hockey you get to meet your teammates in school and you also play against kids from your travel teams,” said Isabelle. “That is cool.
The Bourgeaults also have their Dad on the bench as an Assistant Coach. That’s where Isabelle got her love for hockey, Marc played the game and they are all huge hockey fans. Even though they both took figure skating lessons, Isabelle wanted to play hockey and Dad was hesitant, but now fully supportive of both girls.
Isabelle admits that going from figure skates to hockey skates was frustrating, but she was determined. Just a note for those in figure skating and planning to make the move.
“It will be weird when Carolyn graduates and I still have two more years on the team,” said Isabelle. “She can be ‘mean’ but I like having her with me.”
NYHOL talked to one Coach, Eric Cooper has three sets of sisters on the ice, including the Coopers who are his daughters.
“Coaching three sets of sisters isn’t really exceptional for me because I look at each player separately,” said Coach Cooper. “It was a little difficult with the O’Briens at first, because they are twins.
“But last season I put them on separate lines so that helped.
“The Barretts play different positions so its not difficult to keep them separate and Kelsey plays on a travel team I coach so I’m very familiar with her through that avenue.
“My daughters, both defense and I’ve coached them from the time they were little and there is an age difference with Hailey a tenth grader and Morgan, seventh.
“The sisters are all very competitive and sometimes disagree with their sibling, which can lead to heated words,” said Cooper. “But what I see is them discussing aspects of the game and encouraging each other on a regular basis.”
Cooper takes great pride in working with his daughters and watching them compete. Sometimes it may be tough on them because he expects a great deal from them, as well as the other players, but he feels they are all responsive, have learned the finer points of the game and have done a great job for HEWS this season.
Future plans for all these players is a college education. For some it will be club hockey while others persue DI, II or III level. But for each one hockey has been a positive activity in their lives.