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Maine girls' hockey making its mark

Sports

Maine girls' hockey making its mark

Who says Maine girls can't play hockey at a high level?

No one associated with one of the nation's premier college showcases, that's for sure.

A record contingent of seven Maine players, including three from North Yarmouth Academy and another who helped Scarborough win last winter's state title, were invited to take part at the recent 20th annual Hockey Night in Boston girls' major showcase in Haverhill, Massachusetts and they quickly turned perceptions about Maine players upside down.

"We definitely showed that Maine players can step up and can compete," said NYA junior Taylor Leech, a defenseman who who was named to showcase's all-star team. "When you say you're from Maine, people ask what's even in Maine. We just went out and showed we could play."

Leech was joined by teammates Elizabeth Coughlin and Alex Barnes, who was named Outstanding Goaltender for the second year in a row. Also representing Maine were Elizabeth Gross, who played an integral role on Scarborough's state champion last winter before she transferred to Berwick Academy, Kiana Melvin of Hebron Academy, Nikolle Storey of Kents Hill and York's Kendall Carr.

Maine players competed with and against standouts from across the country for four games and five eventually were named by coaches to the all-star team.

"Making that all-star team made us feel good because people don't think Maine's any good," Barnes said.

HNIB vice president Jamie Callery was impressed with the quality of players from the Pine Tree State.

"In my five years, the quality of Maine players has really picked up," Callery said. "Mostly because those kids are from a prep school or with a junior program, but some high school kids have gotten very good too. The quality has gone up a lot."

The HNIB showcase was created for top players in the area to strut their stuff in front of college scouts and coaches.

While Barnes and Leech both passionately want to play at the next level, they treated the tournament as something more than just impressing those in the crowd.

"I thought about how many colleges would be there, but it's just fun to play with girls you don't normally play with," said Barnes, who started playing goalie at the age of seven, has played premier hockey for several years and is now looking at playing in college at the Division III level. "It was a really fun experience."

"Playing with a wide range of girls was great," said Leech, who is in the college selection process as well, but thinks she might take a post-graduate year after high school to hone her skills before moving on to the next level. "They were really good. It made me see how well girls can play. I've learned that others train differently than we do in Maine. That translates."

While Maine players still lag behind those from hotbeds like Massachusetts and Minnesota, the gap is closing, something that those involved attribute to something as simple as opportunity.

"When we were younger, we had to play on boys' teams," said Barnes, "I had to play with boys until I was 14. There are a lot more opportunities for girls now. When you play against better players, you learn to step up to the challenge. That's where Maine's getting a lot better. I think a lot of kids start at a younger age and see that it's fun."

"There are so many programs popping up," Callery said. "Ten years ago, you could only play on a co-op team or on a team somewhere within 100 miles. Now, there's a lot more ice and teams and the skill level keeps getting better."

With that in mind, it won't be long until Maine players aren't taken for granted and are appreciated for the skills they bring to the ice.

"It's going to keep getting better," Leech said. "I really think it will."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.