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Frontier/O.P. girls hockey finishes strong, but falls in quarterfinals

The Frontier/Orchard Park co-op girls hockey team saw its season end in a 2 – 1 loss to the Monsignor Martin team in a quarterfinal round matchup on Feb. 10. The sixth seed scored a third period goal to tighten the game with No. 3 MMAA, but fell short of tying the game. Photo by Jeffrey Barnes.
Jim McCarthy figured his young Orchard Park/Frontier girls hockey team – which boasted 11 players in grades 7-9 – might take its lumps early this past season. He recalled telling his players as much.

“We told them that we’re going to struggle early,” said McCarthy, the team’s head coach. “The new girls were going to take some time to figure out how things were going to be done; how fast they had to move the puck; how fast their feet had to move.

“They just needed time to figure it all out.”

From McCarthy’s perspective, they figured it out by the end of the season.

After winning just twice in its first 11 games, Orchard Park/Frontier closed out its regular season with three straight victories and finished 5-7-1-1 in Section VI Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Federation action.

McCarthy said that his squad played its best hockey during the second half of the season.

“It was just a matter of everything coming together,” he said. “Every season has an ebb or a flow to it; you have your highs and your lows. The last five or six games, even if we lost, we had our chances. We just couldn’t score.”

Scoring was, in McCarthy’s eyes, what ailed Orchard Park/Frontier this season.

The team – which consisted of four seventh-graders, four eighth-graders, three freshmen, 10 juniors and just one senior – scored 31 goals in 14 league games.

Those scoring woes were especially on display in the team’s 2-1 playoff defeat to Monsignor Martin on Feb. 10, McCarthy noted.

He said that his club had just as many shots and even more scoring chances than its playoff opponent.

“With the young team, we struggled to score all year,” McCarthy said. “Strength was an issue; we would take shots from the top of the circle and just not be able to put enough on it to find a corner.”

While scoring plagued his squad, McCarthy was encouraged by the fact that his players excelled at other areas of the game in spite of their youth.

He was particularly impressed with their execution of systems.

“We have three forechecking systems, a neutral zone system, a defensive-zone coverage system and faceoff plays,” he said. “Our girls played our systems to a T.”

That, McCarthy said, was why the team was competitive in all of its games this year.

Orchard Park/Frontier lost by more than a pair on just two occasions – a 3-0 loss to Williamsville and a 6-2 defeat to Amherst/Sweet Home – and was within striking distance late even in those. Three of the losses were decided by one goal.

The team’s execution of system and coinciding competitiveness will allow it to place an emphasis on correcting its scoring hardships in 2014-15.

“Next year, knowing that our girls know the systems, we can focus a lot more on scoring more goals,” he said. “It will be more about shooting mechanics, rebounds and what to do on 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s. We can really hone in on those.”

Defensively, McCarthy said assistant coach Luciano Forcucci did a “fantastic job” coaching the blue-liners and that new assistant Maggie Giamo was a great addition to the staff.

Olivia Jacobs, Tatum Walber, Jessica Urbank, Gabby DeMeo and Stephanie Pickard led a defense corps that played in front of stalwart goaltender Mikaela DiTonto. McCarthy praised his junior netminder’s play this year.

“The thing with Mikaela is that with a young team, we have to be able to make mistake. She bailed us out of so many mistakes that we made and she kept us in so many games,” said McCarthy, who was also happy with the play of backup goalie Sam Macchioni.

While offense was sparse across the roster, McCarthy said he was happy with the progression that his forward group made during the year.

He’s a firm believer in rolling four lines and said that by the end of the season, he was completely comfortable doing so.

“I’m about developing hockey players and developing a team,” he said. “The last three games of the season, we beat Nichols twice and we beat Amherst. And we beat them with four lines. Our third and fourth line are expected to perform the same level that the first and second line perform.”

McCarthy said that Frangelica Bautz did a nice job playing on the top line with Meghan Roche and Ally Edwards.

Hannah Roche, Grace Page and Megan Urbank were also valuable top-six contributors and Rachel Urbank, Jessica Peters, Taylor Gehen and Karley Baker saw time up front.

“Everyone this year got a ton of playing time and we have a really good nucleus of girls,” McCarthy said. “It’s very encouraging for next year.”

Just how encouraging is it?

“I firmly believe that [we can be a championship-contender next season],” McCarthy said. “I believe that because of what we did this year and the confidence the girls will have next year. We’ll be one year older, bigger, stronger, smarter and faster. And we’re only losing one girl.

“I’ll have pretty much my whole team back. That is a very powerful thing.”

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