Early in the season, the Detroit Belle Tire Girls Tier I 19U team struggled to get over the .500 mark.
Granted, the team was playing tough competition game in and game out, and their identity was nowhere to be found. Around November, head coach Mike Vigilante saw a change in the girls.
“I think they learned to be a team, to be honest with you,” Vigilante said. “The first few months was a battle with these girls, because they’re all very, very good players. I don’t think they understood their role. I think they all wanted the puck all the time. They all just wanted to go play offense and they didn’t understand the defensive side of the game. What I’m most proud of, and when I think this team is successful, is when we're winning as a team. I think that’s what makes them so good, when they play as a team.”
Belle Tire (35-23-7) certainly played like a changed team down the stretch, winning four of five games in the state playoffs to capture the Michigan District Girls Tier I 19U title and advance to the USA Hockey Girls Tier I National Championships in Rochester/Macomb, Michigan, on April 6-10.
“I think we played our best hockey when our backs were against the wall,” Vigilante said. “They’re really resilient and they played their best hockey when they had to. They’re a very good team when they play within the system. They play hard. They know how to win. They put it together at the right time, that’s for sure.”
Belle Tire downed Compuware 9-1 in the tournament opener before falling 4-3 in overtime to Lansing the next day. Belle Tire rebounded to beat HoneyBaked 5-1 and Little Caesars 4-0 in the final round-robin game.
Advancing directly into the championship game, Belle Tire took on familiar foe HoneyBaked. Belle Tire trailed 2-0 before Shelby Bradford netted two beautiful goals to tie it. Belle Tire added two more goals to score a 4-2 victory.
The tournament offered Belle Tire some great competition to get them ready for nationals.
“In the landscape of everything, I think anyone can beat anybody,” Vigilante said. “If you’re not mentally prepared every shift, every bounce, every little detail of the game, if you’re not mentally engaged to do your job collectively, you’re done. They could lose 1-0 and it could be one mental error or one physical error. That’s the message this time of year.”
Defense has been a focal point all season. The team surrendered just seven goals in the five games at state.
“Our team defense, it’s not just our five defensemen, it’s all of us together,” Vigilante said. “When we play good, hard, tight defense, it really opens up a lot of offense for our team. I think the girls saw that this year and bought into it, because everyone wants to score goals — there’s no surprise there. But it’s not as easy when you play top-10 teams just to run and gun and open up, because you’re going to find yourself down three or four nothing pretty quick.”
Vigilante’s five defensemen — Morgan Hatcher, Hannah Bates, Erin McArdle, Miranda Urban and Anastasia Chistyakova — have been stellar all year.
Goalie Emily Lambert earned four starts out of the five games at state. Vigilante rotated Lambert with Kelly Turney all season, but the coach went with the hot hand in the tournament.
The team’s top scorers this year include: Carlie Magier (27 goals, 31 assists), Megan Roe (17 goals, 23 assists), Abbie Grais (16 goals, 22 assists), Abby Latorella (15 goals, 20 assists) and Skylar Fontaine (10 goals, 19 assists).
Belle Tire only plays with nine forwards, so keeping them on the ice is key.
“The message this year was, ‘Everyone’s important. Stay healthy. Stay engaged. Don’t be missing hockey,’” Vigilante said. “If we get two or three players missing, we’re down to two lines. So stay out of the penalty box. Put the team in front of yourself in every decision you make, on the ice, off the ice. The girls did a good job of that. I’m not going to say it was perfect. I don’t think any situation is perfect, but I think they’ve come a long way and they’ve matured and they’re prepared themselves for college careers.”
Belle Tire features five players who will play NCAA Division I hockey: Fontaine, Northeastern; Bates and Roe, St. Cloud State; Hatcher, Minnesota State, Mankato; and Magier, who is in discussion with multiple schools.
The team heads into Nationals with about half its players experiencing the tournament in the past. The girls know how to win close games when their backs are against the wall.
With a strong group of players, Vigilante is looking for his team to make a deep run.
“If you don’t have expectations, what’s the point of showing up?” Vigilante said. “Our expectation is to win the national tournament, and I’m sure that’s the expectation of every other team there. We’re preparing for it and the girls are ready for it. This is about 90 percent of the team’s last stint at 19U, they’re all going to move onto college. Why not end it playing our best hockey?”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
|Youth Tier I (14U)||Scottsdale, Arizona||Arizona Amateur Hockey||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier I (15-year-olds only)||Scottsdale, Arizona||Arizona Amateur Hockey||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier I (16U, 18U)||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania||Pittsburgh Penguins Elite||April 6-10, 2017|
|Girls Tier I||Rochester/Macomb, Michigan||HoneyBaked Hockey Club||April 6-10, 2017|
|Women's A, B, C||Rochester/Macomb, Michigan||HoneyBaked Hockey Club||April 6-9, 2017|
|High School||Cleveland, Ohio||Cleveland Suburban Hockey||March 22-26, 2017|
|Girls Tier II||Troy, Michigan||Troy Youth Hockey Association||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier II (14U)||Coral Springs, Florida||Florida Panthers Ice Den||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier II (16U)||Frisco, Texas||Texas Amateur Hockey||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier II (18U)||Lansing, Michigan||Lansing Hockey Club||April 6-10, 2017|
|Sled||San Jose, California||Sharks Ice||April 6-9, 2017|
|Adult Rec Men's||Wesley Chapel, Florida||Florida Hospital Center Ice||April 20-23, 2017|
|Adult Rec Women's||Ellenton, Florida||Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex||April 27-30, 2017|