As the father of three daughters, when two-time U.S. Olympian Scott Fusco was ready to return to hockey, he did so by providing opportunities for female players.
The East Coast Wizards program, which Fusco created in 2005, has grown into one that has made an impact competitively on the national level and in providing recruits to major colleges.
“Our goal was just to provide a quality place, a competitive place for girls to play hockey and develop,” Fusco said. “We pretty quickly attracted some good players and good coaches, so we got competitive quickly.
“We’ve been able to maintain a good development model while we’ve been having success on the ice.”
That success this season includes three Massachusetts District championship teams and five teams total that will be competing in the Toyota-USA Hockey National Championships from March 31-April 4.
Fusco, a Harvard graduate and Hobey Baker Award winner as the nation’s top college player, played for the United States in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games. After briefly playing professionally in Switzerland, he went into the business world, putting him in position to create the East Coast Wizards and Edge Sports Centers, a Bedford, Massachusetts training facility that is the home of boys and girls ice hockey, lacrosse and field hockey training and teams.
“I never really thought too much about what I would do in hockey,” Fusco said. “When I was done playing, I was ready to do other things and I went off into business and did that.
“Once I had kids who started playing, I got back involved at that point. … Getting away from it for a while was good and being in it for a while now has been great.”
The Wizards have piled up national tournament appearances and won two titles, one in the 12U Tier I tournament in 2010 and another in the 16U Tier II tournament last season.
This year’s five qualifiers took different routes to nationals.
The program’s success helped land at-large bids in the 19U and 16U Tier I tournaments. The 16U Tier II team won its way in by taking the Massachusetts District tournament in November before the teams broke apart for the high school and prep seasons. The 14U Tier I and 14U Tier II teams won Massachusetts District tournaments in March to secure the other spots.
The Tier I nationals are scheduled for Blaine, Minnesota and the Tier II nationals are in Burlington, Vermont, March 31-April 4.
The 19U Tier I team is 23-8-3, including going 4-1-1 on the Christmas break, the last time it played together this season. It split with Massachusetts Spitfires during the district tournament, but the loss came in the championship game, 2-0.
Long-time program member Rebecca Gilmore leads the team.
Gilmore was selected as the U.S. team’s top forward after helping the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team to a gold medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championships for the second straight year. She also played on the 2014 team that earned silver.
With the Wizards, Gilmore is one of four girls on the 19U Tier I team, who won a national title together on the 12U level. She scored the first goal in the national championship game in 2010.
Jacqueline Diffley, Charlotte Albrecht and Shannon Griffin each played on that national championship team and were part of a national finalist 14U team along with Nell Fusco and Kaitlin Hoang.
The program’s top two teams are loaded with players committed to major college programs.
Albrecht, Hannah Gillis and Marcia LaPlante are headed to the College of the Holy Cross, Diffley and Jaimee Cooke are going to St. Lawrence University, Brittany Colton is headed to the University of Maine and Lucinda Quigley has committed to Brown University.
Scott Fusco, who also coaches the 19U team, said there are other commitments in place on the team and some early commitments on the 16U, but that he is not free to release those yet.
Cayla Barnes, another two-time gold medalist with the U.S. Under-18 Team, leads the Wizards 16U Tier I squad.
Barnes, Gillis Frechette, Mia Fusco, Gabby Jones, Corinne McCool, Torey Palumbo and Ashley Tucker all were part of the 14U national finalist team and are now together on the 16U level.
Mark Lissner is back as coach trying to repeat the 16U Tier II title.
Rachel DiFraia, Emily Smith, Jessica Tolzman and Jayden Young are all trying to make it back-to-back national titles as players.
The team appears to be a serious title threat again after going 23-2 and outscoring opponents, 112-14, while playing from Sept. 5-November 9.
The 14U Tier II team was together all season and takes a 42-4-4 record to nationals.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.