IRVINE, Calif. — At the 19U level, it is often the last stop for players as far as organized youth hockey goes, unless players go on to play at the collegiate level or move into adult hockey.
So the Syracuse Valley Eagles (NY) made sure to have a little fun with their trip from New York to California for the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier II 19U National Championships.
“We call this the farewell tour and what a great way to end,” team leader Jordan Caroccio said after Syracuse Valley cruised past the East Coast Wizards (MA) 6-1 for the 2A national title Monday.
It was a balanced effort from the Eagles as Adelena Alvarez scored twice, while Jalynn Castro, Julia Peters, Riley Andzel and Madison Flory each had a goal. Caitlyn McCarthy scored the lone goal for the Wizards.
The lopsided score belied what was an eagerly anticipated matchup between the nation’s two top teams.
“It's been five long years with this group of girls and I knew we had a shot,” said Eagles coach Rob Kopek. “We're ranked No. 1 in the country, but we've had some bumps in the road. And then today, they just came out and — I told their coach, I said, 'We haven't played this good in three months.'”
Kopek said his team didn’t play well throughout most of its semifinal game against the Mid Fairfield Stars. After going into the second intermission tied 2-2, the Eagles exploded for four goals in the third period to win 6-3. They were able to carry that momentum into Monday’s matchup.
Experience was on Syracuse Valley’s side. All but one player on the roster is a senior.
“We really just wanted to play our game, act like it was any other game,” Caroccio said. “There are a lot of nerves going into it, but in the end, it was a good outcome.”
Caroccio was especially satisfied for the team to win this title after all of the time her teammates have spent together.
“I'm at a loss of words actually. We've always dreamed of this,” Caroccio said. “This is what we work towards every single year and to finally make it this far last year is really amazing.”
As the top team in the country, the Eagles played with a target on their backs all season.
“It's a lot of pressure,” Kopek said. “I told them right from the start that everybody's after us, everybody wants to take down No. 1 and they came to play today [Monday]. Most shots we had all weekend in this game. Most goals we had in this game. They wanted this and they did it for each other.”
Kopek was speaking from the team bench while soaking in watching his players celebrate. Little did they know, he was near tears in how proud he was of this team winning the national championship on the last stop of the farewell tour.
“He's really a great guy,” Caroccio said of Kopek. “Both of our coaches, they're amazing. They put their foot out for us, any of us, anytime of the day, they're always there for us. They're great.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.