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Utah Lady Grizzlies Build a Winning Culture

By Michael Hicks Special to, 03/14/16, 3:30PM MDT


The 19U Grizzlies earned back-to-back trips to Tier II nationals.

WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- When Stan Weiss three years ago started coaching the Utah Lady Grizzlies’ Tier II 19U team, he pondered a goal.

“I sat down with the girls and said that this can’t be my goal. This has to be your goal. What do you want to get out of hockey?” he asked.

The girls answered definitively.

After falling one OT loss short of nationals two years ago, the Grizzlies earned their second consecutive berth after outscoring Colorado Select 13-1 in a two-game sweep at the Rocky Mountain District tournament, held this past weekend at the Ice Centre at the Promenade in Westminster, Colorado. It was their eighth and ninth wins of the season over Colorado, having outscored Select 48-2 in those games, including seven shutouts.

“They’re starting to really believe in themselves now,” Weiss said. “In the whole history of Utah hockey, there had never been a girls team to qualify for nationals. Frankly, they were a little surprised at their success last year. This year, they believed in themselves. They believed that they deserved to go to nationals.”

Last year, the Lady Grizzlies tied for eighth at nationals

Living Up to the Billing

Being ranked nationally is always in the back of their mind, but the Rocky Mountain Lady Rough Riders Tier II 16U players couldn’t concern themselves with such details. Ranked eighth, Rocky Mountain’s sole focus at districts was disposing of the Arizona Lady Coyotes.

Mission accomplished.

Behind four goals each from forwards Devin Porazinski and Julia Volpe, Rocky Mountain posted back-to-back shutouts, outscoring Arizona 15-0 en route to the Rocky Mountain District championship.

“I guess we just came out to prove ourselves and that we could win and beat teams,” Porazinski said. “We’re one unit. We’re doing really well as a team this year. We’re really clicking.”

That wasn’t necessarily the case in the month prior to districts when the Lady Rough Riders suffered a four-game losing streak. But two wins prior to districts and now back-to-back shutouts of Arizona has the team refocused on nationals, set for March 31-April 4 in Burlington, Vermont.

“We had some bumps throughout the season, but we know that if we play the way we can play that we can beat any team in the nation if everybody puts their mind to it,” Volpe said.

Commitment to Excellence

Melissa Linville’s commitment to hockey is evident every weekend when the 17-year-old junior from Elgin, Texas, a suburb of Austin, drives three hours one way to practice with her Dallas Stars Elite Tier I 16U teammates.

“I love the game. I love the competitive spirit and the nature of it,” she said. “I want to win. I want to get better. I want to develop myself as much as I can and I want to be the best player that I possibly can be.”

The Stars’ forward is certainly motivated.

Hockey has always been a part of her family. Her dad, Don, not only coaches, but he was a junior player who once tried out for the U.S. Olympic team. Her brother, Donnie, is also a player.

“It is a family thing. It is a family tradition. We’re a big hockey family,” Linville said. “It’s also me. I love the game. I’m so passionate about playing hockey. I want to go so far with it.”

Unfortunately, her Stars’ team’s quest for a trip to nationals was derailed by the Colorado Select, which rallied from a game down to win the best-of-three series with a 7-1 victory in the clincher. Emma Castro and Savannah Willard scored two goals each for Colorado in the deciding game.

Scouting for the Future

Matt Schott was pulling a bit of double duty. Not only is he an assistant coach for the Arizona Lady Coyotes’ Tier II 16U team, but he’s also an assistant coach for the Arizona State University women’s program.

So the Rocky Mountain District championship served as a tremendous recruiting tool for him, considering the Lady Sun Devils recently got accepted into the Western Women's Collegiate Hockey League. And Arizona State is literally building a program from the ground up, and it needs players. Lots of them.

So Schott used the opportunity in suburban Denver to scout talent.

“We want the best that we can get, but at the end of the day we also want a team,” Schott said. “So if all we get is third-line players that come out, third- and fourth-line players, that just means we’ve got to work a little bit harder and establish our program.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

2016 USA Hockey Rocky Mountain District Tournament Champions

Girls Tier I

16U: Colorado Select

19U: Colorado Select

Girls Tier II

14U: Colorado Select

16U:  Rocky Mountain Lady Rough Riders

19U: Utah Lady Grizzlies

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By Jason L. Young 03/20/2012, 9:30am MDT

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- Hockey proved a natural fit for Danielle Lemon. Geography provided a few more challenges. 

The starting goalie on the Under-19 Madison Capitols helped lead her team to a trip to the USA Hockey Tier I National Championships in the Boston area with a second-place finish at the Central District Championship this past weekend. Three years ago, she needed to find a team that provided her both stronger competition and more exposure to the U.S. program and college programs. 

There wasn’t much of either in the Phoenix area. 

“The connections were good,” the 17-year-old said of Madison, Wis. “It looked like a good spot to get noticed.”

She chose wisely. Not only does she plan to accept a scholarship to play at powerhouse Wisconsin starting next year, but this season she’s been coached in goal by U.S. Olympian Jessie Vetter. The former Badger standout and member of the Capitals program remains active with youth hockey in the Madison area as she trains for the U.S. National Team.

Originally from Kitchener, Ontario, Lemon’s family moved to the Phoenix area when she was 2 years old. Her dad, Tom, and older brother, Alex, both played hockey and Danielle followed their path and fell in love with the game. But as she grew older and better, it became clear that to progress she was best served leaving the desert and to a place with a stronger hockey presence. 

She moved as a sophomore in high school and lived with a Capitols teammate’s family before her mother, Rosemarie, joined her a year later.

“It was difficult decision to let her go, when she was so young,” Rosemarie said. “To make the final commitment for me going, too, was also a pretty big decision. 

“But she has a lot of talent and a lot of drive that comes from her. That’s not us. I wasn’t pushing her. It’s been well worth it.” 

Vetter, who led Wisconsin to three national titles with the Badgers, said despite not playing in a hotbed of hockey until her move, Lemon has proven herself more than capable of handling the toughest level of hockey at her age-bracket now. She said Lemon’s prospects for the future are also bright. 

Lemon’s patience in goal has especially impressed Vetter. Although sometimes that patience doesn’t translate to giving herself a break when she makes a mistake during practice, in games she has been consistent. 

Much of that comes from her constant search to become better.

“Her work ethic is unbelievable,” Vetter said. “She comes to practice and she’s working hard from beginning to end, always asking what she can do extra. You can definitely see her work off ice and in practice is translating into the games and she’s playing really good right now.”

Soon, it might be easier for the entire Lemon family to watch her play. 

Alex is set to graduate from the University of Minnesota and wants to stay in the region. Her older sister Sarah is finishing at Colgate and has considered the University of Wisconsin for graduate school. Rosemarie said if circumstances work out, Tom would join everybody in the near future. 

As far as Danielle is concerned that would be great. Her decision to move away from home and to have her parents live apart the past three years was never one motivated in selfishness. Rather, it was a family decision that was made to give the youngest member of the family the best opportunity to achieve her goals in the sport she loves. 

“It’s absolutely worth it,” she said. “Basically my dreams are coming true. I’ve been able to push myself to where I want to. It’s been great.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.