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Tier II 19U Tiger Lilies Rise Up in New Jersey

By Matt Mackinder - Special to, 03/27/15, 10:30AM MDT


The Tiger Lilies organization has grown alongside New Jersey hockey.

LANSING, Mich. -- In literal terms, a certain variation of the tiger lily flower species is native from New Hampshire south to Florida and west to Missouri and Arkansas.

But look to central New Jersey and the Princeton Tiger Lilies girls’ program rules the roost these days as the 19U team won the Atlantic District playoffs earlier this month to earn the right to travel to Michigan’s capital to compete at the Toyota-USA Tier II Girls Hockey National Championships.

“As a team, we always set goals,” said Tiger Lilies coach Jim Pezzato. “It was a hard road to get here, and playing the [New Jersey] Rockets in districts and going three games, those were some pretty heated battles. We definitely earned our right to be here.”

Pezzato said the right blend of players is what has made this team, which also qualified for nationals in 2014, so successful this season. The current 19U squad is a combination of the 16U team from 2013-14 (that also made the national tournament) and last year’s 19U team.

“Our work ethic is what makes us go,” Pezzato said. “We have some skilled players, we also have some muckers and grinders and we have players that dump and chase. The key for this team is when they play as a team … they’re pretty much lights out. The forecheck to the backcheck is a big part of us and obviously, our goaltending [Kendall Smythe]. She’s been ridiculously good in net and we wouldn’t be here without her.”

Smythe’s twin sister, Carlie, is just as “ridiculously good” up front as her sister is between the pipes. In the district final, Kendall made 37 saves and Carlie scored four goals.

“That being said, the two of them are actually a combo and they know what it takes to win,” Pezzato said. “They’re both very good players, and this is their fifth year in a row going to nationals [all with the Tiger Lilies]. They’re both a very big part of our team.”

Pezzato has been with the Tiger Lilies’ program for five years and the organization itself has been around since 1992.

In his five years behind the bench in Princeton, Pezzato has seen a slew of changes, all for the positive, with the Tiger Lilies, which also has Tier I 14U and 16U teams in addition to the Tier II 19U team, as well as for girls hockey in general in New Jersey.

“It’s grown tremendously,” Pezzato said. “We have a lot of programs now playing out of the Atlantic District and it’s come a long way in the past, I’d say 10 years, really. It’s really come a long way.”

Even on the first day of the national tournament, which saw the Tiger Lilies fall to the Big Sky Wildcats, several college hockey scouts took in the game, something not surprising to Pezzato, who feels he has several players on the team that can make that jump this fall.

“We’ll probably have two this year, but many that will happen the year after,” Pezzato said. “We’ve placed some girls in different colleges over the years that played Tier II, so it’s not the end of the world for them.”

Having that track record has also attracted numerous players to the Princeton program in recent years.

“I think that, along with getting to nationals, is a huge accomplishment and obviously, right now in USA Hockey at our level, you basically have 24 teams playing — Tier I and Tier II, 12 in each bracket,” explained Pezzato. “That’s a big accomplishment for any organization that makes it here.

“Getting here is a big part, and then once you get here, you want to be as successful as possible.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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