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Lady Grizz make history with nationals berth

 

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Need proof girls hockey in the Beehive State is on the up and up? Look no further than the Utah Lady Grizzlies’ 19U AA team.

The Lady Grizzlies made history earlier this month after winning their Rocky Mountain District Regional Tournament to become the first girls team ever from Utah to qualify for the USA Hockey National Championships.

The feat isn’t lost on Lady Grizzlies head coach Stanley Weiss.

“It raises the profile of girls hockey in Utah, and provides a goal for young players that’s reachable,” said Weiss. “More importantly, it’s the first step in curbing an exodus of top players to other regions in order to pursue their goals of playing college hockey.”

The Lady Grizzlies, who finished third in the 19U AA bracket at regionals a year ago, forged a 2-1 mark in the round-robin portion of this year’s tournament, which was contested in Dallas, before knocking off Colorado Select in the championship game, 3-0.

Forwards Mina Maciunas, Riley Stout and Kristine Earl lit the lamp for the Lady Grizzlies in the finale, and goaltender Samantha Zvonkovic turned aside all 24 shots she faced.

For the tournament, Maciunas led the club in scoring with six points (four goals) in four games, and Zvonkovic delivered a strong performance in net, picking up all three wins.

“At the beginning of the season, every member of the team decided their goal was to earn a trip to nationals,” said Weiss. “And every girl has been focused on that goal ever since and has committed the time, effort and sacrifice needed to get it done.”

This year’s girls Tier II nationals will run from March 26-30 in Lansing, Mich. Weiss sees no reason why his group can’t compete with the rest of the nation’s best.

“This team is still on its way up,” said the coach, whose squad rosters nine players from last year’s third-place regional finishers. “It’s very young and inexperienced playing at an elite, national level, but nonetheless we’ve proven we can rise to new and higher levels when faced with at challenge.”

Other members of the Lady Grizzlies include forwards Samantha Brown, Kyra Dellermann, Mikayla Dykman, Emma Phinney and Jasmine Weiss; and defensemen Sarah Cahill, Holly Hutchison, Alice Peterson, Kelsie Radke and Jamie Yocus.

Wayne Hutchison and Sandy Dellermann assist Weiss behind the bench. Derrick Radke is the team’s manager.

“This is a highly-motivated team with an unusual unity, both on and off the ice,” said Stanley Weiss. “I’ve rarely seen a team truly love being together as much as this one. No drama, no cliques; everyone wants to see each other achieve her highest and best.”

With an overall record of 22-11-3 heading into nationals, the Lady Grizzlies are no stranger to tournament success, winning a handful of championships over the course of the season.

And after being outmatched playing two highly skilled teams at a tournament in Connecticut over the holidays, the girls had no problem rolling up their sleeves in an effort to correct their deficiencies.

“We’ve learned from our losses,” said Weiss. “After (Connecticut), right away the team committed to working on improvement with a vengeance; it’s made a huge difference in our successes.”

As green as they are – the team rosters a 14-year-old, three 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old – Weiss credits the young newcomers for not only adapting, but also contributing.

“I’m extremely impressed with how hard they’ve worked to come up to speed to become an integral part of our team and its success,” said the coach. “All five of them play critical roles on the team, including being part of our power-play and penalty-killing units.”

And if all goes according to plan, Weiss believes his girls can make some noise at nationals.

“I expect we’ll be very competitive,” he said.

– Brian McDonough