N-W, Starpoint, North Tonawanda to form Federation hockey team; Lew-Port to join in 2019-20
By David Yarger
Niagara-Wheatfield High School's boys hockey team is known for its storied success on the ice, but now the girls will get their chance to show what they can do.
Last week, N-W announced it would join forces with Starpoint High School, as well as North Tonawanda High School, to form a girls hockey team. Lewiston-Porter High School is set to join come the 2019-20 season.
The team will play versus the other seven Section VI Federation girls squads, and will also be the first team in Niagara County to join the Fed.
Girls hockey is on the come up in WNY, as the combination of Frontier/Lake Shore/Orchard Park high schools won the New York State Public High School Athletic Association title last winter. To get into the action, Niagara-Wheatfield Athletic Director Matthew McKenna was thrilled.
"It feels awesome," McKenna said. "The girls, even before I got here, were itching to have a program, and speaking to the girls and their enthusiasm and speaking to the other athletic directors ... we're going to have a very competitive team I think. We have some good talent, granted it's new, so we're going to have some kids that are more novice to the game. But, I think we're going to be in a situation, or the coaches will be in a situation, where they're going to have to make some tough decisions. I think there's going to be a very strong pool of girls for this program."
In a survey done by N-W last year, the school had 15 girls interested in a hockey program. McKenna said approval of the team came about late in the school year, and he said the reaction has been positive.
"I've taken calls from interested parents - 'How can I help?' - girls that were interested towards the end of the year, so the interest has been extremely positive. That's consensus from my school, as well as North Tonawanda and Starpoint and Lewiston, who's coming on in a couple years," McKenna said.
McKenna added that interest for the girls hockey team arose before he was athletic director, and most of it was done by the players interested.
"It got heavier last year when a couple girls said, 'Hey, I really want to play.' There was two parts - 'Can we get a team?' And, if not, 'Can I play for another team?' ... We took it on our radar, and I approached some other schools that through the conversations ... had some interest. ... We just kept moving with and it came down to who were we going to combine with? And Starpoint, North Tonawanda and Lewiston was always in that conversation."
McKenna said interviews for the head coaching job will take place in around a month. He also shared jersey designs, which showed a jersey much like the San Jose Sharks' with the teal blue that had a "NC" for Niagara County, with shamrocks on each shoulder, and each school's logo on each clover. McKenna said the team is still in the midst of working on an established nickname.
The team will be the eighth team in Section VI, which McKenna said the Section appreciated, making it easier for scheduling and playoffs with an even amount of teams. McKenna added that the girls will practice and play home games at the Hockey Outlet along Niagara Falls Boulevard.
For years, girls were not given the chance to show their talents on the ice. To give the girls that opportunity, McKenna said it's very rewarding.
"It's a sport that more and more girls are wanting to play," McKenna said. "It's really exciting to see that enthusiasm for girls hockey and the excitement that it's gonna be, because we know how successful our mens program has been. Granted, this program is going to be combined, but there's such a strong tradition of ice hockey in this area, especially in our school, let alone. So it's going to be rewarding to see all this work and all this effort come together and we see that first game.
"I'm really excited for all the girls. It brings a nice camaraderie between the three schools together ... to have that community feel to this one ice hockey program, and I think that's going to bring everybody together."
McKenna said the program gives girls a chance to represent their school, playing a sport they love.
"Nothing excites me more than when I see these girls that are participating in a sport ... and some of these girls might specialize in hockey and they don't have an opportunity at the scholastic high school level. Well, now we're giving that opportunity. To see those girls participating and having the enthusiasm, the excitement to participate in that sport in their own high school is awesome," McKenna said.
McKenna broke down the possible upcoming schedule for the team, and said most girls games would be early weekdays, such as Monday and Wednesday, because a lot of girls playing hockey, play on weekends for their travel programs.
As interest in girls hockey increases, McKenna said being the only high school team in Niagara County could kickstart possible interest in other regional schools.
"I hope down the road the Lockport's ... the Wilson's, the Newfane's will generate interest and hopefully see the success we have playing and watching the game grow. I know there's other schools that wish they could be a part of it, but just may not be able to do it at this point," he said.
Nov. 5 is the start of the winter athletics season, and more information about the team will be provided as the season ticks closer. For more information on Section VI girls hockey, visit wnygirlshockey.com.