NEWARK, NJ — The aura at “The Rock” was easy to sense. Girls ice hockey is growing — and growing fast.
The top girls hockey players from across the Garden State got the opportunity to showcase their talents center-stage in front of family and fellow students at the third annual High School All-Star Game before the start of the inaugural New Jersey Girls Ice Hockey State Championships at Prudential Center Thursday night in Newark.
A total of 38 All-Stars representing 16 teams from across the state were on hand at the All-Star gala, and when the dust settled, Oak Knoll’s Paige Kehoe found the net twice, Westfield’s Maddie Katz hit and Chatham’s Molly Coyne and Lauren Arias also scored to lead Team Light to a 5-2 victory over Team Dark.
“No it wasn’t just me,” said Kehoe, making sure to credit her teammates for getting her the puck. “Everyone out there played hard.”
“We came out strong, had some great communication and made some crisp passes,” Coyne, HockeyClan’s 2019 Girls Ice Hockey State Player of the Year, said.
Noemi Sofia Martinez of Kent Place made 13 saves to earn the win. Princeton Day’s Jillian Wexler relieved her and made seven saves.
A pair of Trinity Hall teammates in Molly Riggi and Elisabeth Clements accounted for both goals by Team Dark, with Clements’ goal coming on a penalty shot.
Emma Harrison of Pingry started in net for the Dark Team and made 14 saves before Bernards’ Maggie Smith came on in relief with to register 13 saves.
When all was said and done, the opportunity to skate on NHL-ice and in a world-class venue like Prudential Center will stick with these young women forever.
“It was really fun,” Kehoe said. “It’s a great facility and it’s great that we got to play here.”
“It was amazing to play on NHL ice, and to play with the best players in the state,” added Coyne. “It was really fun.”
The All-Star festivities was a great scene, but that was only the appetizer.
Immediately following the action, the main course was rolled out as Morristown-Beard and Summit took the ice for the inaugural New Jersey Girls High School Ice Hockey Championship.
When all was said and done, it was the Crimson of Morristown-Beard who hoisted the inaugural cup as Leah Stecker scored twice while Logan Sutera finished on a breakaway en route to a 3-0 victory over the Hilltoppers.
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
“We had a positive attitude and we just went out there and forechecked hard,” said Stecker. “We got the puck in the back of the net and we just worked well together.”
Bruce Driver, head coach of the Crimson and a Stanley Cup Champion with the New Jersey Devils in 1995, has been one of the biggest advocate’s for growing the girl’s game throughout the state.
“This is just step one with having a girls state tournament. When we started our program back in 2000, we were just one of six girls teams in the state,” Driver said. “We saw a big jump a few years ago and there are a lot of great women throughout the state that are making sure the game continues to grow — they are doing a tremendous job.”
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
Stecker credited her team’s positivity in winning the championship.
“The biggest takeaway is to never be negative,” she said. “Because we were positive the entire way we were able to get everything done.”
Like the All-Star game, the championship finale was a chance for the girls on Mo-Beard and Summit to take NHL-ice in front of a large crowd. An estimated 400 fans were in attendance for the inaugural event.
“That was crazy — the fact so many of our students came,” Stecker said. “I come to the Prudential Center all the time to watch the Devils. The fact that I’m playing here is just incredible.”
— Bruce Driver (@BruceDriver23) March 6, 2020
“They were nervous, but some of our girls have actually been on this ice before, such as on Captain’s Night,” Driver said. “I told them that they’ve played in big games before; the only difference is this is a bigger building and there are a few more people.
“It’s all about managing the nerves, and I think they did a great job of that,” Driver said.
The defensive tone was set early and throughout the night. Sasha Berniker made 11 saves to post the shutout.
“Our first game of the season was against Summit and we ended up playing them to a 2-1 game,” Driver said. “We have had trouble scoring at some points this season and we’ve been working with the girls on being able to finish our chances.
“We have three senior defensemen and a senior goalie,” Driver said. “Sure, you have to score to win, but I am a firm believer that defense is what wins championships.”
Having a former NHL player behind the bench is a luxury many teams cannot afford, but for Driver, he accredits the great mentors he has had throughout his playing days; implementing their strategies into his game day preparations.
“Through all the coaches I have had — Dave King, Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson — I take a lot of what they have taught to me and I try to pass that along to the girls,” he said.
“It’s a process and it takes time, but it showed today and they were nearly flawless out there tonight.”
— HockeyClan (@Hockey_Clan) March 6, 2020
1-0 MB Leah Stecker (unassisted) 8:36-1st
2-0 MB Logan Sutera (Anna Bajak) 10:19-2nd
3-0 MB Leah Stecker (Lilli Warnock) 3:41-2nd
Shots: 28-11 Morristown-Beard; Sasha Berniker, MB, 11 saves; Lily Spenner, SUM, 25 saves
Written by Casey Krish @CaseyKrish
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Morristown-Beard — Your 2020 New Jersey Girls Ice Hockey State Champions. Photo from 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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