It only seems fitting that the North American Hockey Academy’s 19U Winter Hawks won their seventh Junior Women’s Hockey League (JWHL) playoff championship in the league’s landmark 10th season.
By Joshua Boyd
Fitting, in that hockey director and head coach Bill Driscoll was one of the league’s co-founders, working in concert with Kush Sidhu, a decade ago.
The Winter Hawks claimed the title after defeating the Pacific Steelers of British Columbia 5-0 in the title match at the Buffalo Sabres’ HarborCenter the first weekend of March.
“We were going to have to play our best hockey to get through,” said Driscoll. “We played Balmoral Hall in the semifinal and we really started to hit our stride in that game. Things that we had been working on through the year were coming together.”
Through the regular season, the Winter Hawks spread the scoring through all four lines and had six players tally 20 points or more in their 24 regular season games.
“We were looking at it before the playoffs and were surprised that, after scoring as many goals as we had during the season (108), we didn’t have a scorer ranked in the top in league stats,” Driscoll added.
“We’re a tough team to shut down when we can score from any of the four lines we play,” he said.
“A team couldn’t focus on one player. We were fortunate that we have a lot of gifted forwards that can put the puck in the net. We also have some great puck-distributing defensemen.”
One of those aforementioned puck-distributing defensive stalwarts was Sklar Podvey, a St. Lawrence University commit, who led the team throughout the season, earning 27 points (six goals, 21 assists).
“[Podvey] has fantastic vision and is a great skater. She is headed to St. Lawrence. They are known for their team speed and fast style of play,” Driscoll said. “She found a good fit there. When you have a player that can make a great first pass, it sure makes it easier to play through the neutral zone and play some offense.”
Included on the list of 20 points or more scorers are forwards Delany Drake and Kyleigh Hanzlik, both University of Wisconsin commits, and forwards Eleri MacKay (Colgate), Hayley Lunny (Providence College) and Emma Wuthrich.
Goaltenders Cami Kronish (University of Wisconsin) and Mia Glassco (Adrian College) were instrumental in both the regular season and playoffs.
“Cami was a second team all-star. I think the Balmoral and Pacific games were the best games we saw her play all year,” Driscoll said.
After winning seven of 10 league playoffs, it is obvious the NAHA program has build a foundation of success.
“We’re lucky we can get a strong group of players in here. We’ve been around long enough that we’ve developed a strong network. Most of the girls that come here are from word of mouth from somebody else that came here. We draw from Fairbanks to Florida,” Driscoll added.
“In players, we for not only the skills, skating and hockey sense. We also look for the character, commitment to the game, dedication and passion,” Driscoll said.
“You may not hit on all cylinders. When you get the majority of the people on your team very high in all those categories, they create a synergy for each other. The whole is bigger than the parts.”
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