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O.P./Frontier looks to veteran players to lead young team

PAGE HELPING LEAD THE WAY — Grace Page of Frontier is one of the many junior leaders on a young Orchard park/Frontier girls hockey team. Photo by Michael Petro.
Jim McCarthy said that it can’t be easy for seventh and eighth graders and freshmen to walk on to a varsity hockey team as part of a two school co-op and feel totally comfortable, regardless of how talented these players may be or how much potential they may hold.

The Orchard Park/Frontier girls ice hockey head coach has 11 players between seventh and ninth grades stepping on to the ice, in that very situation. And that’s why he said he couldn’t be happier to have a core returning group, to help lead the way.

Among his one senior and 10 juniors, McCarthy has many players who have gone through past seasons with the team and know what it takes to succeed at this level. And they are also willing to explain what they’ve learned, to the many youngsters on the squad.

It all starts with waking up early in the morning, three to four times a week, and giving it their all during the same 5 a.m. practices at Leisure Rinks that have become the team’s staple for the past four seasons, since the inception of the Western New York Federation league for girls.

“The young girls are trying to learn what’s expected of them and the older girls do a good job in showing them,” McCarthy said. “They tell them you get in here at 5 a.m. and work hard. These girls who have been around, they get it now. When the younger girls need a push, our veteran players tell them to pick it up, and you can tell, they do it.”

McCarthy will continue to do his best to make every player feel a part of what’s going on and reward them for their hard work and sacrifices in being a part of the team. He will once again roll his four lines, along with welcoming in a backup goalie to junior standout Mikaela DiTonto. Frontier/OP went without one, all of last season.

“We have four really good lines and they execute really well,” said McCarthy, whose team won a sectional title the first season of the league and has enjoyed competitive seasons the past two years but never the same playoff success. “We’re a four-line team. We want everyone to be a part of it. I want them to all feel what it’s like to win and feel what it’s like to lose.”

The now-eight-team league, with the addition of Nichols B team, looks to be very close in competition. Frontier is 1 – 2 – 1 and played in some tight games. The team lost to defending sectional champion Kenmore 3 – 1, tied Federation champ Monsignor Martin 1 – 1 and beat West Seneca 6 – 4, after trailing early. Lancaster has combined with Iroquois and picked up a several travel hockey players, to become very competitive this year. It beat O.P./Frontier in another close game.

“We’ve been in every game,” McCarthy said. “The league is getting better every year. On any given day, you just don’t know. You have a lot of good teams, but it’s exactly what you want as a coach.”

O.P./Frontier will ride DiTonto, a four-year varsity player, as far as she can take the team. DiTonto of O.P. has been a key to the team’s being a threat, year in and out, in the league. She is now being backed up by freshman Sam Macchioni of Frontier.

“She’s the engine that makes us go,” McCarthy said, about his starting goalie. “We need her to make some big saves for us, because we’re not going to score a lot of goals.”

She will be aided by a returning group of defensemen, led by juniors Olivia Jacobs, Jessica Urbank and Tatum Walber and senior Stephanie Pickard, all from O.P. McCarthy said they will be on the ice every shift as he interchanges some of the youngsters into the mix. Pickard moved back from playing forward to help on the blue line.

A little less experienced up front, McCarthy will look to the forward lines of freshmen Frangelica Bautz of O.P., Meghan Roche (Frontier) and sophomore Ally Edwards (Frontier), who have exhibited chemistry with one another and move the puck well, and juniors Hannah Roche (Frontier), Grace Page (Frontier) and Megan Urbank (O.P.), a more experienced grouping, to lead the offense. Edwards, a newcomer, has been a solid playmaker so far, her coach said.

Also expected to contribute up front is returning sophomore Karley Baker of Frontier, while big surprises so far have been the play of seventh graders Rachel Urbank, a defender and the third and youngest of the sisters on the team, and Jessica Peters, who’s a forward, the coach said. Both are from Orchard Park. Eighth grade newcomer Taylor Gehen of O.P. has also shown feistiness in her play, McCarthy noted.

Also returning this season are juniors Jordyn Buziak and Laura Jankowski and eighth graders Heather Fitzgerald and Sirena Fitzery. All four are from Frontier.

McCarthy said he loves nothing more than teaching, and has been working with the newcomers and youngsters to first learn skill work and then the team’s systems. As he does that, McCarthy is happy to see his older players take their games up a notch, while helping him instruct.

He and assistant Luciano Forcucci have also welcomed to the coaching staff Maggie Giamo, an Orchard Park graduate who played at Cortland State.

“More important than the wins and losses, I want them all to feel like they’re having a positive experience,” McCarthy noted.

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