Arranging lodging for last year’s USA Hockey Girls’ National Championships in San Jose, Calif., made it clear that years of improvement within the New Jersey Colonials program had reached a new pinnacle.
“Last year was a high-water mark for us,” said Don Gould, the coach of the Tier I 14-and-Under team who also assists with the other teams. “We actually had to get our own hotel.”
The Colonials took five teams to nationals as Atlantic District champions and came home with a bronze medal on the Tier I 14U level.
There had been a time when the fate of the Colonials in the older girls’ age groups was tied largely to which players migrated to and from the program.
Shelley Looney and Gould sought to change that.
Looney scored the game-winning goal for Team USA against Canada in the first Olympic women’s hockey gold-medal game, in 1998, and also earned a silver medal four years later in 2002. She was named Colonials girls’ director in 2006 by Donna Guariglia, who founded the Colonials girls’ program and is now USA Hockey’s Girls’/Women’s Section Director. They brought on Gould as coach at the same time.
“We decided we were not going to compete for players,” Gould said. “We saw a lot of this player trading going on where players would come and go every year.
“We said we’re just going to start growing a lot of little, small hockey players into big players. The more flowers you plant in the garden, the more that will pop out.”
There remains a large base of youngsters among the 140 girls that the Colonials have, along with their 500 boys, at the Bridgewater, Twin Oaks and Morristown rinks in central New Jersey.
In Looney and Gould’s early years, the numbers within the program grew until it reached virtual capacity. The more recent progress, which has continued with former New England College coach Sis Paulsen now in her first full season as girls’ director, has come in terms of success on the ice.
The Colonials have sent multiple teams to nationals in each of the last five seasons, reaching new highs of four qualifiers in 2012, then five in 2013. At this year’s Atlantic District tournament, on March 7-9, the Colonials swept the Tier I 14U, 16U and 18U titles.
In the recently completed Mid-Atlantic Women’s Hockey Association season, the Colonials won the Granato Division (Tier I) titles at 14U and 16U while finishing as runner-up at Granato 19U and in Ruggerio Division (Tier II) 14U.
The base of the pyramid is the 10U and 8U players. At the top, the Colonials have sent 72 players to college programs in the past five years. The program’s alumni also includes 2014 U.S. Olympian Alex Carpenter, who recently chose the Colonials when players on the Olympic team were given the opportunity to choose a youth hockey association to receive a USA Hockey donation of 12 sets of equipment as part of the OneGoal program.
Between those starting and those moving on, the Colonials may be at their strongest.
The current Tier I 14U team that Gould coaches is part of a yearly progression from Tier II 12U to Tier I 12U to Tier II 14U to Tier I 14U now in use by the program. The current Tier I 14U roster of 16 players includes 13 who have been with the team throughout each step of that process.
“When we came in, the program was kind of treading water,” Gould said. “They didn’t have a 19, they didn’t have a 16. The oldest team was a 14.
“It had shrunk back a little bit and there wasn’t positive momentum for growth. What we saw was a process of growth first and development first.”
The seeds planted early have blossomed now, making the Colonials a program to copy.
“We’re very proud of that model,” Gould said. “It’s nice to see we’re being somewhat emulated now.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.