TAYLOR, Mich. -- It’s been a trying season to say the least for Madison McMurray. The Birmingham, Mich., native has had to endure a position change and a major injury, but through it all she came back at the most important time of the season to help lead her Little Caesars Tier I 16-and-Under team during round-robin play at the Michigan state tournament at the Taylor Sportsplex.
“It’s been pretty frustrating not to be part of the success, especially in the second half when the team has played much better,” the 16-year-old said. “I have been trying to give morale support to all my teammates and they have made me feel part of the team throughout this whole ordeal.”
Little Caesars began the season offensively challenged, and coach Joe Kolet decided to make a few changes. Among the changes was moving McMurray from her comfort zone at the back end to the forward position with the hope of producing more goals.
Shortly after the position change, McMurray was out snowboarding when the injury occurred.
“I suffered a broken collarbone and for the next two months I could do very little, which meant no skating whatsoever,” explained McMurray, with a sigh. “So I am really excited to be back on the ice and playing again.”
McMurray has played organized hockey since she was 8 and always as a defensemen. She said she had no problem with the position switch and is actually looking at it as a positive.
“I think it will make me a more valuable player, being versatile at both positions,” McMurray said. “As far as next year I will play whatever position I am asked to play by the coaching staff.”
The plan was to ease her back slowly and increase her ice time with each passing game.
“I only played two shifts in beating Belle Tire, but that was the game plan all along and again I am just happy to be back with my teammates,” she said.
HoneyBaked 16U team loses players, still wins
At the beginning of the season, HoneyBaked 16U girls’ coach Rob Robinson had planned to go with 10 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders, but somewhere along the way things went awry. First, one forward left the team to attend prep school, and then a second forward was lost due to an injury, leaving the team with only eight forwards.
“It was an adjustment for the girls,” said Robinson, who is in his first year as coach with this group of 16U players. “I thought the girls were young enough to overcome this, and they did by stepping up their level of play.”
Robinson’s adjustment of moving one defenseman up front left the team with only five rearguards, but that has not stopped the girls from winning hockey games.
“You would think losing a pair of forwards and moving a D-man to a new position would weaken us up front, but that has not been the case,” said Robinson, whose team plays out of Farmington Hills, Mich. “Good defense creates good opportunities in the offensive end. Overall you hope they take care of their own end, which will make for more time spent in opposing end.”
Robinson said he has been happy with the girls throughout the season.
“We have had a real strong season and have won our first two round-robin games,” said Robinson, which put HoneyBaked in the U16 finals, where they won an earned a berth to the USA Hockey National Championships. “The girls deserve all the credit. They are a fun bunch to watch on the ice and have played very well all season long.”
Little Caesars 14U squad starts with three shutouts
The Little Caesars 14U girls’ team was the talk of the tournament in the early going as they started state playoffs with an amazing three straight shutouts.
In the opening game, goaltenders Kayla Kowalski and Emily Lambert combined to blank Victory Honda 9-0. Kowalski then pitched a 7-0 shutout over Compuware, and Lambert continued the streak in game three, whitewashing Team Detroit Belle Tire 5-0 and putting Little Caesars into the finals.
“Our goal from the start of the season was to limit the opposing team’s number of shots to 20 or less,” coach Paul Goleniak said. “We have a good group of girls who are committed to back-checking and making sure we limit the number of scoring chances from the opposition.”
Goleniak admits that it’s tough to try to sell a defensive style of play to kids under 14.
“Everyone wants to score goals, and it took a while for the kids buy into a defensive system,” said Goleniak, who is in his second year of coaching this group of U14s. “Once they started seeing positive results, that translated into wins. Things got a lot better and the girls grew into a very cohesive defensive-minded group.”
Little Caesars put up 36 wins during the regular season and finished second in league play. Most of the girls have played together for the past three or four years, and they are a very close-knit group with a lot of team bonding away from the ice.
There have been quite a few shutouts along the way this season, but never three in succession.
“This has been an amazing streak,” Goleniak said. “It could not have come at a better or more important time of the season, during state tournament play.”
In the 14U finals, Little Caesars got goals from four different players — Delaney Szlezyngier, Abigail Grias, Taylor Whitney and Carlie Magier — to beat HoneyBaked 4-2.
HoneyBaked captured the 16U crown, nipping Little Caesars 2-1. Olivia Ziemba and Morhan Stacey scored for HoneyBaked while Madeline Mann tallied for Little Caesars.
HoneyBaked won the 19U title 2-1 over Little Caesars behind two first-period goals from Taylor Ann Callahan and Nicole Russel.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Girls Tier II
14U: Little Caesars