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Buffalo Bisons 19U Squad Determined to Win First National Title

By Justin A. Rice - Special to USAHockey.com, 04/04/14, 12:30PM MDT

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MARLBOROUGH, Mass. -- It’s sometimes hard for the Buffalo Bisons to avoid a comparison to a certain infamous National Football League team from their town that lost four straight Super Bowls 20 years ago.

“We’ve been to the nationals 14 times and been in either quarters, semis or the finals at 12 of the 14 times,” Bisons 19-and-Under coach Scott Welch said Thursday during the 2014 Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Girls National Championships at the New England Sports Center.

In the last five seasons alone, the Bisons have lost to Assabet Valley of Massachusetts in the finals twice, including a 2-1 loss two years ago. Last year Buffalo lost in the quarterfinals to Shattuck-St. Mary’s of Minnesota.

Fortunately for the 19U Bisons players, they were way too young to remember those early-1990s Buffalo Bills teams.

“No not really, I don’t follow much football; yeah the Bills aren’t the best team,” said 18-year-old forward Annika Zalewski, who led all 19U players in points with three goals and four assists through two games and will play at Colgate University in the fall.

“You don’t really get as much credit for getting there and losing even though you won those games along the way, so definitely winning would mean a lot. It’s just a great group of girls, so it would be unreal to close out the season with another win.”

The Bisons got off to a good start at nationals as they beat the New Jersey Colonials 6-4 on Wednesday and then defeated Team Wisconsin 8-1 on Thursday. Julianna Iafallo, who will play for Ohio State in the fall, scored three goals and added an assist against Wisconsin.

Fast starts are nothing new for the Bison.

“It’s kind of annoying, but I guess it’s similar,” defender Brandy Streeter, who will play for Union College in the fall, said of the Bills comparison. “We always try our hardest, we always get here, we just can’t finish.

“Oh yeah, this is our year to win it.”

The Bisons’ core group of players have skated together nearly year round since they were 12-years-old.

“They like each other first and foremost,” Welch said. “Chemistry is everything. We’ve always had a lot of talent, but this is a team that’s baked with talent. They just like each other. They don’t care who scores or who does what as long as the team has success.”

Nine seniors have committed to playing college hockey next year, including five who will play at the NCAA Division I level. Two of Welch’s four daughters are on the team: Madison Welch verbally committed to Syracuse University and Abby Welch verbally committed to Penn State. On the whole, 48 players have graduated from the Bisons program to go to play in college, including Welch’s other two daughters.

And while Welch winces at the mention of the Buffalo Bills four Super Bowl loses, he wants a national championship for the sake of his girls, not himself.

“Yes, yes, there’s been a couple analogies like that, but we don’t want to be like them,” he said of the Bills. “But I think the Bills are on an upswing too. The kids are excited about the opportunity to be here. It’s one thing to be here, and the other side is to be here and be able to compete and win, and that’s where their focus is.

“That’s the plan [to win the championship]. We’ve been gearing up really since we started tryouts last April. And our focus has been trying to get back here and end on a positive note. There is only going to be one team that is going to come out with a win. I think it would be validation for the kid’s hard work. It wouldn’t be about me, but it would be about the kids and what they put in and the dedication to each other.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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