Familiar faces dot First Team lineup
There are a few things the six First Team all-stars on the 2016-17 All-Bee Girls Hockey Team have in common, but one of the bigger things is the fact that many of them were First Team selections last season, which just goes to show how talented the top players in the Western New York Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Federation have been and continue to be.
All six players on the squad earned their spots on the First Team with their individual play this season, as evidenced by the accomplishments that led to their inclusion on the fifth installment of the All-Bee Team:
Kenmore/Grand Island coach Jeff Orlowski didn’t even hesitate for a split second when calling Olivia Smith “the best player to ever come through our program.”
The six-year varsity player from Kenmore West holds every offensive record in program history, achievements earned in recording 136 career points. The now three-time First Team All-Bee all-star scored both of her teams’ goals in its playoff opener against West Seneca/Hamburg/Eden, including one with 22 seconds to play in regulation, netted three against a then-undefeated Williamsville squad in the semifinals and posted one goal and two assists against Frontier/Lake Shore/Orchard Park in the final.
“You name it, she’s got it,” Orlowski said. “She’s the quietest kid but she’s the best there is. She’s always positive too, with never a mean thing to say. I’ve never seen anyone who loves hockey more than she does. She’s just an awesome player, and the bigger the game, the better she is. She just goes crazy in the playoffs. It’s going to be rough without her; she was probably close to 90 percent of our offense.”
Smith, who bided her time during her first two years with the club, perhaps shone brightest during the team’s run to a state title her junior season. She all but shut down Canton’s top player in the semifinals — a player who was leading one of the top Canadian leagues in goals — with a performance that led to quite a bit of collegiate interest. In the end, Smith chose to continue her career starting next season at Buffalo State College.
“Even as a seventh-grader you could see she was going to be really good, and for the past four years she’s truly been dominant,” Orlowski said. “Now, she’s such a strong skater that if she bumps into someone, they fall down. She’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen in practice; she was always out there before practice working on her shot and her stick handling. She doesn’t waste a single second of time when she’s on the ice.”
Kaitlin Drew-Mead, last year’s All-Bee Player of the Year, was the most versatile player Monsignor Martin coach Linda Groff-Mroz had on the ice this season, and quite possibly for the four years she’s been on the squad.
The Sacred Heart senior can either center or play on either wing of a line, and has the skill to play defense, too. That versatility not only allowed her to score 20 goals and assist on seven others this year, but allowed her to have a huge presence for the squad even on the rare off-day when she wasn’t contributing in a statistically-verifiable fashion.
“She’s got great hands, sees the ice very well, has got a good shot, and can turn her speed on or off whenever she needs to,” Groff-Mroz said. “She’s one of those players that any coach loves to have. Her work ethic is something that’s uncanny. She’s a very chill player and an easygoing kid. Overall, she’s always looking to improve her game, and that’s something I really liked about her.”
Though currently undecided on where, Drew-Mead does have aspirations of playing collegiately next year. In the meantime, she’ll continue to put her work ethic to use at the travel level, which is something Groff-Mroz encouraged over the years.
“One thing I reiterate to someone playing both travel and for MMA is to take a couple of things from their personal game and work on them, because that will help them both as individuals and for both of their teams,” Groff-Mroz said. “Watching Kaitlin develop as an athlete and young woman these last four years has been absolutely incredible to watch. Her hands were always silky smooth, but her shot also improved to where she was a sniper. Watching the little things of her game increase to the next level little by little has been fun.”
Opposing goalies had to be shaking in their skates any time Leah Czerwinski came breaking in on them.
The senior captain from Williamsville South and repeat All-Bee First Team all-star finished with career single-season bests with both 21 goals and 10 assists in 21 games this season, and coach Rick Hopkins noted that a bunch of them came on breakaway opportunities. More importantly, a good deal of Czerwinski’s goals came at the timeliest of moments, like when she scored the team’s two goals in a 4-2 loss in the Federation final to demonstrate her “neve r-say-die” attitude.
“Leah was just a force for us on the wing,” Hopkins said. “She’s very strong and aggressive on her skates, she has a real hard shot, and she’s just a great kid with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. You could see even back in eighth grade that she could keep up with the best players out there, and now, this year, she was without a doubt the player of ours other teams had to worry about.”
Even more impressive to Hopkins was Czerwinski’s two-way ability, as it’s not that often that a team’s top scorer is also one of its best back checkers. Fortunately for Hopkins, Czerwinski’s motor never had an off switch, which allowed her to thrive no matter what role she needed to fill in any given moment.
“Leah’s a great two-way hockey player,” Hopkins said. “She skates hard all the time and uses her speed to her advantage. Whether it was on the penalty kill or power play, she’s always on the ice with a motor that’s constantly running. If we allowed her she’d probably be on the ice every single shift. We’re going to miss her for sure when she goes to Oswego to play in the fall.”
When it came to defending her team’s zone, pretty much anything Frontier/Lake Shore/Orchard Park did ran through Brooke Becker.
Becker, a freshman from Orchard Park who was an Honorable Mention All-Bee all-star last winter, plays beyond her years, according to assistant coach Lucian Forcucci. Becker paced the league in points among defensemen, scoring 12 goals and assisting on 19 others for 31 points in 25 games.
Becker’s play not only helped FLOP win the Section VI and Federation titles this season, but has already led to her making a verbal commitment to play collegiately at the Division I level.
“Brooke was our most dominant player on the ice, and I feel pretty safe in saying that without her on our roster I don’t think we win either championship,” Forcucci said. “A lot of people contributed to our success, but I can’t deny how key a role Brooke had in it. She was absolutely the backbone to our defense and our power play. A lot of what we did system wise ran through her.”
Becker came up with some of her bigger efforts — at both ends of the ice — in some of the biggest games this season. She scored a goal and assisted on another in FLOP’s 5-1 state-semifinal win over Beekmantown on Feb. 10, and had two goals and an assist in the team’s 4-2 Federation final victory over Williamsville on Feb. 26.
“Brooke always took on the other teams’ best lines and top players, and what’s even greater is that, even though she’s just a freshman, she’s a great leader, too,” Forcucci said. “She’s always positive in the locker room and a great teammate first and foremost. She’s a great athlete who’s very passionate and dedicated to the sport, and she spends a lot of time at the rink working on her game and her skills. She’s already a great player and she’ll be a heck of a player as she gets older.”
When it comes to being a reliable defenseman, few had anything on CASH’s Casey Adimey this season.
The fifth-year junior from Amherst moves up from Second Team All-Bee status last season after contributing nine goals and seven assists to CASH’s haul this winter. Having played with the same defensive partner since seventh grade — when coach Nicola Adimey said “they were hard to beat, even back then” — certainly helped Casey Adimey thrive on the blue line.
“Casey is just a very calm and collected player who’s definitely in control back there,” coach Adimey said. “She always works hard and will never give up on a play. She battles in front of the net and is very competitive no matter who comes up against her; she doesn’t ever want to be beat. She’s got determination and good follow-though, and she plays the same way every game, no matter who we’re facing.”
One of Casey Adimey’s biggest highlights of the year was assisting on All-Bee Player of the Year Julia Mings’ 100th career goal in the team’s regular-season finale against Lancaster/Depew/ Iroquois on Feb. 2. It was one of the clearest examples of what Casey Adimey could bring to the offensive zone for CASH.
“Casey makes great outlet passes to the forwards, and when she sees the opportunity, she will take the puck and rush it down,” coach Adimey said.
Monsignor Martin coach Linda Groff-Mroz could always tell if her team was in for a rough game if she walked into the locker room ahead of a game and Brianna Gawronski wasn’t playing her harmonica.
Fortunately for Groff-Mroz and her team, there weren’t many days when the Mount Mercy senior and repeat All-Bee First Team all-star netminder wasn’t filling the locker room with tunes.
“Bri was willing to do whatever she was asked for the sake of the team,” Groff-Mroz said. “She worked on things really hard in practice. She really takes being a goalie seriously and loves the game. Getting to watch her game develop over the four years she was with us was awesome for sure.”
On the year, Gawronski posted an 8-2-2 record that included three-and-a-half shutouts. She stopped 262 of the 277 shots she faced to post a 1.25 goals-against average and a 0.946 save percentage. And Groff-Mroz noted that the shots that Gawronski faced in making those saves weren’t exactly the garden variety.
“Bri can just see the puck wherever it is, and even if she was being screened, she was still able to track it,” Groff-Mroz said. “She just sees the game from a different perspective. The shots she faced were certainly threatening shots to say the least, but we knew we could count on her to get us out of sticky situations.
“She moves well laterally, her glove is incredible, and she became more aggressive and more vocal as a senior.”
Though currently undecided on the location, Gawronski does aspire to continue playing hockey collegiately starting next year.