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Utah Lady Grizzlies Build a Winning Culture

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

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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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