Leah Stecker found the back of the net 16 times over the course of her sophomore season at Morristown-Beard, but none will compare to the tally that secured the Crimson’s inaugural girls ice hockey state championship.
With 33 goals over her first two seasons, and five in the final two games this season, Stecker has proven her ability to produce; especially when needed most. Now a state champion, Stecker will add one more accolade to her already accredited career – 2020 HockeyClan Girls State Player of the Year.
“It’s really cool to be named the player of the year and also to win the state championship,” Stecker said. “This has been the best time in my career so far.”
Stecker quickly entered the scene in 2018-19, making a name for herself with 21 goals and 37 points as a freshman taking an assignment as one of the squad’s top centers. Morristown-Beard has always been a wary foe for all of their opponents, but Stecker proved to be a fresh face that would wreck havoc against them for years to come.
To follow up her impressive debut, the sophomore continued to produce on the score sheet, putting up 36 points on 16 goals and 20 assists. All of this while playing a position that is new to her.
Growing up, Stecker was considered a defenseman by trade, but with an influx in defensive talent on the Crimson roster coupled with Stecker’s skating ability, she was slotted in as a center to aid the offense.
Head coach Bruce Driver saw Stecker play up at forward during her time on the U-14 team with the New Jersey Colonials and said that made the decision easy for him and the rest of the staff. Stecker has looked natural up front and has certainly rewarded the team’s decision.
“She is a highly skilled and dynamic player who has driven our offense,” Driver said. “Even though she has played out of position by being a defenseman by trade; for the past two seasons she has been the most noticeable player on the ice in every game she has played against New Jersey teams this year.”
Her ability to skate and accelerate into the offensive zone is what has impressed Driver the most, and her size helps her protect the puck once she enters the scoring areas.
“Leah is a tremendous skater with an effortless stride,” Driver added. “She is fast even if she doesn’t look like speed is a part of her game. Her ability to accelerate and change directions sets her out above the rest.”
What truly sets Stecker above the pack was her ability to produce on the biggest stage, picking up a hat-trick in Morristown-Beard’s semi-final victory over Oak Knoll before scoring two in the state final. Stecker’s first-period goal against Summit proved to be the tally that secured the Crimson the state championship.
“I’m used to playing under pressure, but that doesn’t make it any easier,” Stecker said of the state tournament. “For the Colonials, I’ve played in big games like the playoffs and districts, but every time I’m just as nervous.
“I just try to play and forget the stage, and when we were in the final I don’t think about it being the Prudential Center and an NHL arena and all the stakes. I just focus on playing.”
Having a head coach that has been in the biggest games at the biggest stages certainly has a humbling affect on these girls, but Driver knows the importance of experiencing the moment first hand.
“My message to the whole team is that regardless of what I’ve been in, they have all been in games where the stakes were high as well,” Driver said. “We set a goal to be in these types of games early on, and we talked about managing the nerves.”
At the pace the Crimson are at they might need to build another trophy case sooner rather than later. In 2020, they captured the New Jersey Prep title on Feb. 11, with a 4-3 win over a strong Pingry team. They followed up with the state’s inaugural state championship title in early March.
VIDEO: Morristown-Beard celebrates after winning the inaugural New Jersey Girls Ice Hockey State Championship @AthleticsMBS @MBCrimsonHockey @HNIBOnline @CaseyKrish @TSPImages @BruceDriver23 #NJHockey pic.twitter.com/nm5PtVbH0S
— HockeyClan (@Hockey_Clan) March 6, 2020
— HockeyClan (@Hockey_Clan) March 6, 2020
Stecker whole-heartedly placed the credit on the girls she takes the ice with, but admitted she is experiencing some of the reputation that comes with being a hero in the school’s biggest game to date.
“People were coming up to me that day and asking if I was ready, and even now a month later people around the neighborhood tell me they still watch the videos of my goal or our celebration,” she said. “It’s really special and one of the best experiences of my hockey career.”
The championships have been coming steadily for the program since it began in 2000, and Driver says it’s a testament to the school’s admissions bringing in not only athletes, but humbling young women as well.
“That room is filled with not just good hockey players, but also some really good people,” Driver said. “We have been very fortunate the last few seasons to be able to have the kids that don’t put themselves above anyone else in the program.”
Put it the books! 🏆 Congratulations to @MorristownBeard @AthleticsMBS on being the FIRST EVER Girls Ice Hockey State Champions! 💪🏽 Leah Stecker leads the way with 2 goals for the Crimson 🏒Stay tuned for more highlights from @PruCenter @NJDevils pic.twitter.com/1XyApEfHYa
— Jersey Sports Zone (@JSZ_Sports) March 6, 2020
Related: 2019-20 HockeyClan Video Catalog
— Morristown-Beard School Athletics (@AthleticsMBS) April 3, 2020
While the reward is still newly minted for Stecker, she is already setting goals for next season; a year hopeful to bring even more prestige to one of the most successful programs in the state.
“We always want to win preps and states and of course go undefeated,” Stecker said. “We have to do everything right like we did this year.”
To Stecker and the Crimson, doing everything right encompasses what it takes to be a winner, and in the case of Leah and the Crimson; to be the best in New Jersey. That means trying their best and listening to a brilliant mind behind the bench.
“Coach Driver is an amazing coach and that definitely helps,” Stecker said. “And we play really well as a team and we all get along.”
It is a notion that experience is needed to be successful at the high school level, but Stecker is the leader of a young group of girls who will continue to make impacts over the next few seasons. Stecker will return to Morristown-Beard for the next two years, and the Crimson knows exactly the type of player that will take the ice every single shift.
“I always want to be the unselfish player for my teammates,” Stecker said was the best attribute to her game. “I actually like to pass more than score. I see the ice and want to get everyone else involved.”
Stecker backs up these words, evidenced by her team leading 20 assists. She is never worried about being the hero, and proves that a lot can be accomplished when you don’t allow any pressure to get to you.
“She manages the game really well and doesn’t ever try to do too much. She knows how to utilize her teammates and makes the pass when she sees she has it,” Driver said.
Stecker will return to Morristown-Beard next season, and currently ranks 21st on the programs all time leading scoring list, with 73 points to date. While she has already had some magnificent moments and accomplishments during her short scholastic career, Stecker knows sticking to what she does best with her game will lead too many more moments down the line.
“Again, I just don’t let the moments get to me,” she said. “Just go out there and play without thinking about what the stage is. Do that and good things are going to happen.”
“There have been many great players to come through the program over the years and when it is all said and done, Leah is going to be right up there with the rest,” said Driver.
Written by Casey Krish @CaseyKrish
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Morristown-Beard’s Leah Stecker, who scored the game-winning goal, walks the puck toward the net during the Morristown-Beard vs. Summit Girls Ice Hockey State Championship at Prudential Center, Newark, NJ. 3/5/20 (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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