GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Youth hockey is on the rise in California, and girls’ hockey is looking up, too.
“For the boys, California has won a couple of national championships at U16 and U18s, but not so much for the girls,” California Wave 16U coach Mark Falkowski said.
The California Wave are trying to change that.
The team is in only its second season, but it advanced to the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Girls National Championships by winning the Pacific District championship. Now it wants to make the most of its opportunity at nationals in Green Bay.
“I think it’s amazing,” Falkowski said. “We put the team together last year to be here. I think it’s a great step for California girls’ hockey to have us here representing and showing that hockey’s growing and that there are good teams. We have a very good hockey team. They’re excited, and I’m excited for them to have this experience wearing a Wave jersey.”
Playing in a national tournament never gets old for Bailee Trani. The 17-year-old captain who lives in Huntington Beach, Calif., is competing in her sixth nationals, at different levels, in the past seven years.
“It’s a huge honor,” she said. “Not everyone gets to come over here and enjoy this.”
It took the California Wave, who are based in Artesia, Calif., a little time at the beginning of the season to mesh, as three-quarters of the team was returning from the previous year. The players have really upped their game recently.
“We had a tournament in Boston in mid-February, played very well and beat some very good teams out there,” Falkowski said. “We had a couple exhibition games leading up to it, and we’ve been playing well the last month and a half and hitting our stride.”
The Wave are comprised of eight players in birth years 1998 and ’99 and two from 2000.
“We have a wide variety of age group, and I think it all kind of helps, because everybody jells,” Falkowski said. “The older kids kind of show the younger kids because they’ve been through it. The younger kids are kind of that youthful enthusiasm. It’s kind of that balance that really works for us.
“Every kid contributes.”
The Wave started out the national tournament on the right note with a 1-0 victory over Team Wisconsin on Thursday afternoon. California was whistled for 10 penalties but killed off every Wisconsin power play. With the game still scoreless late in the third period, the Wave’s leading scorer Nicole Dunbar found the back of the net with just 1 minute, 45 seconds remaining. The goal by the future University of New Hampshire Wildcat was assisted by Trani and RPI commit Kendra Farole.
The victory could give the Wave some momentum heading into the weekend games.
“It gives us a big boost, but it’s in the past now, so we’ve got to look forward to next game,” Trani said.
Spoken like a true leader.
“She’s a sparkplug on the ice,” said Falkowski about Trani. “If you watch a game, she’s tenacious and she’s a bulldog that’s always going to be after you. That kind of energy sparks everyone else on.”
At the start of the season, Trani wanted to cap her final season at the 16U level with a trip to nationals.
“That’s always the dream goal, but every game, every practice was just to prepare for this,” Trani said. “We came here not only to be successful, but to take home a banner.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.