NCCYHA’s annual Steele Hall tourney debuts girls’ division

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford A ceremonial puck drop was held Friday at Steele Hall to mark the debut of the Tough as Steele Tournament girls’ division. Front row, left to right: Chase Ibach of the Southtowns Lady Stars, Fredonia State President Virginia Horvath, the Lady Steelers’ Maria Maytum. In the back row, NCCYHA President Shaun Fadale is flanked by Fredonia State interns and tournament coordinators Nicole Korzeniewski (left) and Haleigh Sullivan.

The Northern Chautauqua County Youth Hockey Association’s 33rd annual Tough as Steele tournament at Steele Hall features a new thing this weekend: An all-girls 12-and-under division with four teams.

The division includes a Lady Steelers team in its second season, along with the Hamburg Hawks, Erie Lady Lions and Southtowns Lady Stars.

Lady Steelers coach Aaron Marshall said the NCCYHA put together the Lady Steelers in response to a talent drain.

“For years we’ve had girls in the organization playing hockey, but they kind of age out. They hit a certain age where, if they want to continue to play, they’re playing checking hockey … so we would lose a lot of players,” he said.

He added that many girls would go to Hamburg, Jamestown or Erie to play for another organization. “Now with the girls team, we’re seeing them stay here. They’re continuing to play the game they love, at home,” he said.

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford A ceremonial puck drop was held Friday at Steele Hall to mark the debut of the Tough as Steele Tournament girls’ division. Front row, left to right: Chase Ibach of the Southtowns Lady Stars, Fredonia State President Virginia Horvath, the Lady Steelers’ Maria Maytum. In the back row, NCCYHA President Shaun Fadale is flanked by Fredonia State interns and tournament coordinators Nicole Korzeniewski (left) and Haleigh Sullivan.

“We’ve always had some contingent of girls but we’ve never had a heavy and strong outpouring so that we could make one division,” NCCYHA President Shaun Fadale said. “Divisions are broken down into age brackets so if you have a total of 10 or 15 girls in the program, and some are 15, some are 12, some are 8, some are 6, you can’t form one team.

“We’ve put together a number of girls and we were able to get a U12 group that could play in tournaments. And since we were able to field a home team, we were then able to go out and find opposing teams (for the Steele Hall tourney),” Fadale continued.

Marshall said negotiating the bureaucracy of USA Hockey has taken years. “Of all the sports I’m involved with, USA Hockey has the most complicated rules,” he said.

Both Fadale and Marshall said many people pitched into the effort. One person they both singled out was team manager and assistant coach Mark Maytum.

The Lady Steelers team last year won just one game and had to go to Buffalo to play in tournaments. “Now that we’ve been around, we’re seeing the teams come in (here), “ Marshall said. “This is the icing on the cake that’s taken two years to bake.”

Marshall’s daughters, aged 6 and 15, both play hockey. The oldest one only played with boys last season because there wasn’t another option. Forced to change to goalie, she made the Steelers junior varsity team as a backup. “I don’t want girls coming up after this to have to make a choice like that,” he said.

Marshall said the NCCYHA tournament division is a natural next step for girls’ hockey in Chautauqua County.

“We have an incredible facility right here in our own backyard… They should be playing hockey here,” he said.

“This is the first time ever that we’ve locally had an all girls division, which is huge. It’s exciting,” Fadale said.

COMMENTS