They say a season is a marathon, not a sprint. Mental toughness with added grit and skill, gets the job done. Apt statements when it comes to the 3 teams representing the New Jersey Colonials at the USA Hockey National Tournament, April 4-8: 19U Major, 19U Elite and 14U Blue.
“The teams we have going to Nationals this year embody the work-ethic and philosophy that our players live by everyday”, explained Andy Gojdycz, Executive Director for the Girls program. “Both Shelly (Picard) and I are truly excited for what these teams have done this year and cannot wait to see them compete against the best in the country”.
Picard, whose stellar resume and passion to grow the game of hockey for girls, was named last month as the New Jersey Colonials Girls Hockey Director. She is currently in Finland representing Team USA at the Women’s Worlds Championships. “I’m incredibly proud of all three of our teams participating at Nationals! They’ve worked hard all season, and couldn’t ask for better representation of our club. I can’t wait to see all that they accomplish at the tournament!”
The 19 Major team is coached by Shannon Paskaris and Nicole Leone. They are no strangers to Nationals as they fly off to Irvine, CA and face Detroit Honeybaked in their opening game. This year’s squad has a total of 9 players that have committed to NCAA schools:
• Chloe Aston (Harvard)
• Melanie Conca (Conn College)
• Courtney DeNaut (Yale)
• Caroline Goffredo (Boston College)
• Julia Hoffman (LIU Brooklyn)
• Renee Hoffman (LIU Brooklyn)
• Kate (Amy) Monihan (Princeton)
• Jennifer Olnowich (Princeton)
• Taylor Zahirnyi (RPI)
This coaching staff has embodied success at the higher levels of hockey. Coach Paskaris played at Dartmouth and also on Team Canada’s U22 team. While gaining her Masters, she helped coach the University of Windsor for two seasons. “We are very excited to be attending Nationals again this year and have the opportunity to showcase the incredible talent that we have here in New Jersey”, commented Coach Paskaris. “It says a lot about the organization as a whole that we are able to consistently produce a U19 team that can compete at a National level. We have a great group of girls that have balanced and excelled at both their academics and athletics and we are looking forward to surprising some teams in California”.
Coach Leone grew up playing for the Durham Lightning and eventually the NWHL with the Telus Lightning. She enjoyed playing at both Quinnipiac and Syracuse at the NCAA D1 level. “Its pretty special being able to showcase our team on the National stage. We have a great group of girls this year who have worked hard all year to get here and were very excited to make the National tournament in California”, stated Coach Leone.
The 19 Elite team is coached by Harris Podvey and Tai DeNunzio. Combined, they have over 40 years of coaching experience including previous Nationals trips. The team hits the road as they travel to Amherst, NY for the tournament.
“This group is a very resilient bunch that love to play and compete for each other”, commented Coach Podvey. After a final loss at Districts, which knocked them out of Nationals contention, they won an At-Large bid to keep their hopes of winning a National Title alive.
“When we got the call that we got in, we were all ecstatic beyond words”, said Coach DeNunzio.
Hannah Podvey, a goaltender on the team, had this to say: “Receiving an at large bid to nationals validates all the hard work and travel the team has put in this year. Also, since many of these girls are ending their youth hockey career this season – a trip to Nationals is the perfect way to culminate their time at the Colonials and in youth hockey.”
The 19 Elite team will face off against the Boston Jr Eagles, Idaho Vipers and Wisconsin Selects in their bracket. They feel they are up to the challenge and welcome the competition!
The 14U Blue team captured a thrilling Districts Championship against the Jr Flyers to punch their ticket to Natty’s. Prior to that, they needed to win in Challenger Weekend to advance, which they did – in a shootout.
“The 2018-19 14U Colonials team has been a highlight in my coaching career. Coaching my daughter for the last time, watching the team win Challenge Weekend in a shootout and then win Districts in three games will be memories I will hold dear forever”, stated Coach Bonner who shared coaching responsibilities with Coach Puskar for this team.
When asked about the experience this year, Coach Puskar responded without hesitation: “It was a personal goal of mine to help get this group to qualify for Nationals and I couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments. Coaching alongside Brad Bonner has been an awesome experience and a memory I won’t forget”.
The 14U Blue team will face off against #1 ranked North Shore Vipers in a bracket that is ripe for the taking. Also in their bracket is Steel City and the Carolina Jr Hurricanes. Although a tough draw, this is exactly where they want to be as they travel to Amherst, NY with 19U Elite.
“It has been the greatest honor to watch our girls develop throughout the season. The girls have come a long way and bonded well over the past eight months. They could not have accomplished their success without Coach Puskar. They are very luck to have him as a coach. Making Nationals was our goal from the day the players signed their contracts. They have earned their success and I am immensely proud of what they have accomplished, but we are not done yet! We are going to take Nationals “one shift at a time” and pour every once of effort into the tournament”, commented Coach Bonner.
We wish our girls GOOD LUCK at their respective USAH Nationals locations!