AMHERST, N.Y. -- The host team gets an automatic berth into the Toyota-USA Hockey National Championships. The Amherst Knights’ Tier II 16-and-Under girls’ team is making the most of its opportunity.
While their compatriots in the other age groups have not fared well in pool play, the 16U Knights advanced to the knockout round, giving each of their opponents a tough game along the way.
“We are playing our best hockey at the right time,” Amherst coach Darren Paleszewski said. “The girls have been playing great, doing everything, buying into what we’re telling them to do. Just 100 percent effort.”
Paleszewski knew the key to any advancement would be the team’s opening game on Wednesday against Steel City Selects.
“The goal coming in was to win our first game,” he said. “It was a team we faced early on; we lost 2-1 to them in the finals of a tournament in Erie, Pa., so when I saw who we were playing first, I thought we had a really good opportunity in front of us to get that first win."
Win they did by a 3-2 score. Hannah Gallivan put the Knights ahead early in the first. Steel City scored twice near the end of the second to take a 2-1 lead into the final stanza.
Amherst would not be denied, though, scoring twice within a 1:29 span to regain the lead, which they held on to. Kailyn Burke and Molly McDonnell scored the third-period goals.
The Knights’ second game saw an identical 3-2 score, but this time Amherst was on the losing end against the Vermont Shamrocks.
After a scoreless first period, the teams traded goals with Vermont notching the first one followed by a Mia Fournier tally. Amherst took the lead in the third period thanks to Lina Mirabella, but this time the Knights let in two unanswered goals to drop the contest.
In the third game, the Knights lost 3-1 to the KPHA Ice Hawks from Alaska. Olivia Rutkowski scored the lone goal for Amherst, which tied the game at the time.
However, that first win was enough to get the hosts into the quarterfinals.
“It’s been such a team effort,” Paleszewski said. “My goaltending has been absolutely outstanding. The defense is making all the right decisions when they need to. Our forwards have been just relentless both ends of the ice; their forecheck and their backcheck has been solid.”
Amherst will play Marquette in the next round. Marquette has the 16Us leading goal scorer by a landslide in Allison Carlson, who has with 14.
“I guess that makes it easy on me,” Paleszewski said. “I know who to watch. At this point everybody is good.”
One of the reasons Amherst has the opportunity to host the Tier II girls’ national championships is thanks to tournament director extraordinaire Robert Schell, who has run countless tournaments at various levels over many years at the Northtown Center at Amherst.
“He is unbelievable,” Paleszewski said of his friend. “He is absolutely fabulous. He’s the backbone to this organization for many years and the main reason why we are able to host these tournaments. He’s great.”
The Amherst Knights 16U girls’ team is taking full advantage of their automatic berth.
“Goal one was to win the first game, and the second goal was to make the crossover, and we accomplished both,” Paleszewski said. “It’s a party and we got invited and we’re here, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.