ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- This weekend, Chris Malicki coached the Cazenovia Lady Chiefs to a New York state Tier II 19U championship and a bid to the 2015 Toyota-USA Hockey National Championships in Lansing, Mich., on March 26-30.
It was a run he could have hardly imagined just a few years ago.
“Five years ago we had nothing,” he said, “and now we’ve got four full girls’ teams, three of them are state bound and we got our first girls’ state championship ever in Cazenovia in South Buffalo, N.Y.”
Cazenovia is not to be confused with the namesake town in central New York, located approximately 20 miles southeast of Syracuse. Rather, Malicki’s team is associated with the Cazenovia Park Youth Hockey Association located on Cazenovia Street in South Buffalo.
On the youth side, their most famous alum is Patrick Kane, now a two-time U.S. Olympian and Chicago Blackhawks star. On the girls’ side, like Malicki said, they are quite new.
“Caz never had a girls program until five years ago, when I got on board,” he said. ”They asked me to run a young girls’ program with my younger daughter, which I did. At the time, I was coaching girls’ high school hockey in the Buffalo area. There were a bunch of girls who had nowhere to play at 19U three seasons ago. Since I had connections, they granted me to have a 19U girls’ team along with my younger girls’ team.”
That decision has paid dividends for the Cazenovia program, as was evidenced this weekend at the state tournament in Rochester.
Things started out slow, as the Lady Chiefs dropped their first game in a shootout 3-2 to the Lady Islanders. But Malicki had a message for his girls.
“I told them, ‘Now you run the table. You’re capable of doing it,’” he recalled.
“They bought into it.”
The Lady Chiefs shut out Lake Placid (2-0) and Plattsburgh (1-0) to close out the round robin. In the semifinals, they defeated the Rochester Grizzlies 2-1, setting up a rematch with Lake Placid.
Cazenovia jumped out to a 3-0 lead on goals by Madeline Norton, Alexis Peters, and Amelia Gajewski. After Lake Placid broke the shutout with 29 seconds left in the second period, Peters guaranteed the 4-1 win with a final-minute tally.
“When we put the team together, our strength was our goaltending — Alexis Becker and Lauren Pray,” Malicki said. ”I rotated them the whole tournament. One girl got the one extra game. But I said, ‘Lauren you get the third game today. You’re going to win it so Becker gets the first game at nationals.’
“They stood on their heads all year for us.”
Malicki also noted defenseman Amelia Gajewski, who has been with him for four years, and forwards Maddie Norton, Becky Smith and Alexis Peters. But ultimately he called his team “kind of a no-name group,” as in the 1972 Miami Dolphins defense that lacked superstars but led the team to a perfect record.
“We really are,” he said. “They all contributed to get us where we are.”
Ironically, it was last year’s team Malicki thought would be the first to find success.
“Honestly, last year’s team was a lot more talented, and we were kind of built for it,” Malicki said. ”This year’s team was more of a nut and bolts, lunch bucket team. I wasn’t sure we could do it. I’m going to keep the same approach [in the national championships]. We’re going to work hard, we’re going to play good defense, goaltending, and do our best and see what happens.”
As with any group of older girls, keeping their attention on the game and away from the senior distractions is the biggest obstacle.
“I have all seniors,” Malicki said. ”They are getting excited to get out of school, going to college. I’m not sure how many I have are going to play in college. So the expectation was they just wanted to have fun and play one more year. That’s fine. But I told them if we can pull together, maybe we can do something special. And they did. That’s what’s gratifying.”
When asked what the team’s goals are for nationals, Malicki joked, “Don’t embarrass ourselves.”
Then, he thought back on the five years the girls’ program existed at Cazenovia and said, “It is surreal.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.