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Youth Hockey: Simoncelli begins to take game on road at elite camp

Playing for the Hamburg Hawks has helped develop Ava Simoncelli’s game to an elite level.
Before this summer, Ava Simoncelli had only traveled as far as northern New York State in Lake Placid during 10 years of playing hockey. Starting with attending a prestigious national hockey camp later this month in St. Cloud, Minn., the 14-year-old Hamburg resident will be taking to the road now much more often.

Right after the USA Hockey-sponsored developmental camp ends on July 25, Ava’s father, Dave Simoncelli, will be putting his daughter on a plane from Minnesota to Boston, Mass., where she’ll be starting her first year playing with the Buffalo Bisons 19-and-under team at the Tier I level.

It’s quite a whirlwind for the soon-to-be-sophomore at Nichols School and former light traveler, but one that elicits much excitement. This new travel schedule for hockey is also a testament to how far her game has come along and how highly regarded the defenseman has become in the youth hockey ranks.

“It’s really exciting because there will be so many scouts at the camp and I’ve never really played much outside of Western New York,” said Simoncelli, who has been playing with the Hamburg Hawks about seven years, since the organization was first forming girls teams.

“I get to play with the best girls in the country and I can’t wait to see where I stack up — where I fall in — and see how different hockey is played in different areas.”

Always playing up a level or two since she first started competing for the Hawks 12-and-under team as a 7-year-old, she received a taste of playing against national competition last summer at the North American Select Prospects Camp at the University at Buffalo. However, that summer, she fell short of the A-rating needed to attend the USA Hockey national summer camp. She was graded a B.

After playing on the Frontier boys modified hockey team in seventh and eighth grades and with the newly formed girls high school ice hockey team as an eighth grader, Simoncelli decided to attend Nichols where she spent her freshman year successfully adjusting to the increased level of academics and competition on ice. She earned the Prep B team’s Most Valuable Player award and saw her game evolve to another level.

She also got to play in the state finals this past March with the Hamburg Hawks after her goal in the fourth overtime pushed her team past the semifinals. The Hawks fell 1-0 in double overtime to St. Lawrence but it was the second time since the U-12 level Simoncelli had experienced playing in a Tier II state final.

Suffice it to say, she was more than ready for this year’s USA Hockey tryout after the year in-between. Even with an added tryout in Western New York to qualify for the state-wide tryout in April in Cicero, Simoncelli got that needed A-rating and will attend the camp in Minnesota starting July 19. She’s ranked among the top 17 percent among those evaluated.

“She will definitely be doing some traveling now,” her father, Dave, joked.

The camp will be a huge learning experience for Simoncelli as she embarks on moving up to the Tier I level for travel hockey. She hopes to take note of the speed of other players and see what pace she’ll need to play at against future competition. She’d also like to become a better decision-maker.

“I’d like to learn from the other girls, especially the older ones and Tier I girls, and see some of the things I may have been missing out on while playing at the Tier II level,” said Ava, who shifted back to play defense in her first year as a Hamburg Hawk and has been there ever since.

Simoncelli has prided herself on being a physical player — though checking is illegal in the girls game, physicality remains an aspect of play — and wonders how she’ll hold up against bigger and older competition.

“She’s usually been her team’s penalty minute leader,” Dave said. “She’s very aware out there. They say she has her head on a swivel.”

Continuing to aid Simoncelli’s effort to improve is her willingness to listen and accept constructive criticism. Her knowledge of the game is so thorough and complete it has coaches touting her as a future coach and her father jokingly expecting to be taught hockey and its systems while attending Sabres games with his daughter.

She’s also excited to be sharing the experience of the camp with three of her Nichols teammates and friends. They, along with many of her older teammates, have helped in her adjustment to the school this year. She also appreciates the knowledge bestowed upon her and opportunities presented by Nichols head coach Scott Welch.

“I love the girls on the team — they’re always willing to teach and are so welcoming,” Ava said. “I only knew one girls when I first came to the school, but the hockey girls approached me to ask if I was playing and made me feel comfortable.”

Simoncelli sees herself following in the footsteps of many of the Nichols’ players before her by continuing to compete in college. She is also dedicated to the idea of coaching one day. It seems this is only the start of the increased traveling it will take to help Simoncelli reach her dreams.

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