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.
Eight months ago, the Indianapolis Racers 12-Under Tier II boys team began its season. The journey had it fair shares of highs and lows, but it ended where few teams get to go — in the USA Hockey National Championship game.
Backed by fast starts throughout the tournament, Indianapolis got out to another quick start and never looked back en route to a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh 98’s in the 2A championship game Sunday afternoon at Sharks Ice in San Jose.
Indianapolis wasted little time showing who the top team was on Sunday. The Racers potted two goals in the first period, started off by a scrum in front. Joey Bolger poked in the loose puck to open the scoring with 5:34 left in the first period. Will Schlagenhauf then poked in a backbreaker with less than a minute to play in the period. After a wraparound try was denied, Schlagenhauf picked up his teammate and cleaned up the mess in front.
The far post tap-in gave the Racers a 2-0 lead after one period.
“It was a great start,” Indianapolis coach Fred Knipscheer said. “We have been doing that the whole tournament. The kids didn’t show any nerves early, which was great to see. We have depth all the way through the lineup and we were able to use that again to our advantage today.”
Jack Knipscheer and Joey Barone assisted on the second goal. The unselfish play was a trademark of the Racers’ championship effort throughout their stay in San Jose.
“Fourteen of our 16 skaters scored a goal this week,” Knipscheer said. “It’s unbelievable. The boys knew their roles and really played outstanding hockey. Everyone on our roster had a part in us getting here.”
Matt Sawyer continued the Indy fun midway through the second period, scoring a power-play goal to extend the advantage to 3-0.
“We usually start games good,” Racers captain Riley Doyon said. “We all want each other to do well. It’s been a great experience. Right from the start, I always knew that we could do this.”
Sawyer lifted a wrist shot high into the top corner to end a strong power play with a goal.
The Pittsburgh 98’s came into the finals undefeated along with the Racers. The black-and-yellow clad bunch scored the first of two goals on the afternoon late in the second period.
Aiden Beck buried a pretty crossing feed from teammate Brendan Walkom to get the 98’s on the board with 1:31 left in the second.
Roman Kraemer tipped in the second Pittsburgh goal midway through the final period of play.
Nikita Slivchenko and Billy Harris each got assists on the score.
Justin Whited and Doyon each added goals for the Racers in the final period. Whited picked up a rebound next to the post and zipped behind the net to wrap in the pretty finish.
Doyon’s empty-netter started off the celebration with just less than a minute to play.
“It was crazy,” Doyon said about his emotions after the empty-netter went in. “I was just so happy that we did it. I just wanted the game to end so I could celebrate with my teammates.”
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.