LAKEWOOD, Ohio — While the disappointment of being defeated in the 2013 USA Hockey Mid-American District Tier II 16-and-Under championship game was emotionally difficult for the North Hills Vipers, even more disturbing to this close-knit team was the realization that, as a team, they would probably not play together again, as several of the players will move up in age-classification next season.
“We’re more of a family than a team, we really bonded with each other,” commented Viper Jillian Foster.
Added Olivia Coyne: “We all come from different areas all around Pittsburgh, and we only see each other at practice, but I like this team because it’s more than just friendships, it’s like a family. You have to give so much time and effort.”
Amanda Slezak travels from Johnston to Pittsburgh to play on the team, “because it’s a better team with better competition.”
A teary-eyed captain, Hannah Bielski, added that the team had “overcome a lot of obstacles and injuries this year, and in the end we really enjoyed being together and playing.”
Additionally, as a first-year team at the Tier II level, alternate captain Natalie Foster cited the team’s initial lack of understanding of the level of play when the team was created.
“Lots of us came into this not really with much experience and didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “We came a long way at the end of the season.”
Bielski’s observation of this team overcoming obstacles and injuries would be an understatement, as evidenced by the team’s very successful Sarah Backstrom Tournament appearance earlier in the season in Erie, Penn. The North Hills Vipers played in the championship game with only eight skaters and lost a 2-1 contest.
Echoing Bielski’s reflection of a team confronted with numerous obstacles, North Hills Vipers coach Frank Slezak described several trials his team faced and overcame during the recently completed season.
“Since Day 1, and now 22 games later, we have never had a full roster,” he said. “Between concussions, the injuries, the sicknesses, this team has never quit. All 15 of them, I would never trade. When you’ve got the heart and soul to play like they played, this is a special group of kids.”
Lacking girls’ programs in many of their home rinks, this team was created to offer a place for these girls to play.
In just four years, the North Hills Vipers girls’ teams have expanded from initially having only a 14U team to adding a 19U team two years ago and this year, the 16U team is completing its initial season.
This team is the “effort and rebirth of the grassroots community team,” observed Mid-Am Girls/Women Section Representative Yevet Anderson.
“This team here is very special,” continued Coach Slezak. “They’re a unique set of girls that came together to play, and I think they did an outstanding job.”
Vipers’ assistant coach Larry Moore, who also coaches a boys’ Midget team, related that one stigma attached to girls’ hockey is that it is not as competitive as the boys. The Vipers have turned that notion on its head.
“The boys’ have watched these girls play and are astounded at the quality, speed and skill of the girls’ game,” Moore said.
When questioned about what’s next after the disappointing loss in the Mid-Am Championships, Slezak’s answer was to be expected from the mentor of such a united group.
“We’re going to have a meeting, talk to the kids and it’s up to them,” he said. “It’s always been up to them, it’s their team.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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