BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Syracuse Valley Eagles 14U girls team made a big decision a few years ago to join the Valley Youth Hockey Association.
They are now heading to the 2018 USA Hockey Girls Tier I National Championships next month in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
"Valley Youth Hockey is truly a family-centered program where all players in the organization are treated equally," explained Mucha. "From mini-mites and First Strides up through to the upper age travel programs. Great care goes into trying to fully support each and every team to have an enjoyable hockey experience every season."
They started with a bang, winning the Tier I 12U New York District championship in 2015 and 2016. They fell to the Buffalo Regals in their first year at 14U, but avenged that loss this season, this time defeating the Buffalo Bisons 5-3.
The game was broken open in the third period with three goals in 3:10, including two within 14 seconds.
The Eagles went undefeated in the tournament with two shutouts, scoring 33 goals and surrendering only seven in six games.
"It's our first opportunity for girls to go to a Tier I national tournament," Mucha said.
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Youth Tier I
15-Only: Buffalo Jr. Sabres
16U: Buffalo Jr. Sabres
18U: PAL Jr. Islanders
Youth Tier II
14U: Skaneateles Lakers
16U: Massena/St. Lawrence Thunder
18U: Syracuse Blazers
Girls Tier I
14U: Valley Eagles
19U: Niagara Jr. Purple Eagles
Girls Tier II
16U: Brewster Lady Bulldogs
Like the organization does, Mucha also treats everyone on his team as equals. So much so, he refuses to call out any stars.
"I actually think every single kid is a huge component to our team and they proved it this weekend," he said. "We had every single kid on the scoresheet over the course of the weekend. We need everybody to contribute in order to be successful. I really couldn't pinpoint any specific player because we really unify as a team. On any given night, it could be one line and on another night, it could be somebody else or maybe a defenseman steps in. So, I hate to name names because everyone chips in to make us successful."
On top of that, the girls are anything but underachievers. They all play fall and spring sports for their high schools, many at the varsity level. And they do all that while maintaining excellence in the classroom.
"The most remarkable accomplishment are the academic grades the girls are achieving," Mucha said. "Almost all of the girls are straight-A students. They know how important their academics are, and they work hard to make sure their performance in the classroom is top priority. We are so proud of them in all facets of their lives."
The team dynamics have changed each year. A core group from the ages of 8 and 9 years old has dwindled down to six, as some have moved elsewhere, while newcomers arrived who were playing on boys teams or other organizations.
"We've been very, very lucky to have the group of kids we've had for the years," Mucha said.
So now, the final step in this process begins as they head off to nationals.
"We believe we can be competitive with the best of the best," Mucha said. "We've played some of those top teams this year and fared very well. We're going in to win it. We feel like we have all the tools to do that."
The Eagles can now add New York District champion to their 2017-18 resume that includes the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Thanksgiving Classic championship and the East Coast Wizards Columbus Day Tournament runner-up.
"We're trying to create our new name under a new emblem and show people across the country we can play hockey with the best of the best," Mucha said. "We're very excited, very proud to represent New York State and Valley Youth Hockey. It's been an awesome organization."
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc