The ties between the Yale Youth Hockey Association girls’ program and Yale University are deep.
And they’re especially tight when it comes to the Mandi Schwartz Foundation.
“Mandi was a Yale undergraduate [hockey] player who died of leukemia [on April 3, 2011, at the age of 23],” Junior Bulldog girls’ Under-14 coach John Sather said. “Yale is very committed in doing bone marrow research and bone marrow drives. We dedicated our inaugural season [in 2011-12] to her and each of the last two seasons we’ve raised money for her foundation.
“Last year the girls raised $1,000 for the foundation. They’re part of the Yale University community. The most obvious manifestation of that is their participation in the Mandi Schwartz Foundation and fundraising drives.”
During its inaugural season the Yale Youth Hockey Association girls’ program only fielded a U-12 team. And a year later it added a U-14 team.
“There always have been some girls in the boys’ program,” Sather said. “But when they got to the Peewee and Bantam levels, they would go and play elsewhere.
“We felt it would be sad to see these girls leave because we didn’t have a girls’ program.”
The association’s affiliation with Yale University — specifically the Bulldogs’ women’s hockey team — helped make sure the girls’ program stuck.
“We have a very good Division I women’s team at Yale, and when we were thinking of [adding a girls’ program], we realized there are plenty of role models for young boys,” Sather said. “For example, [for boys] you have major league baseball and pro hockey. It’s a little harder for young girls to flip on the TV set and see that.
“The strength of our relationship with Yale is that they see the women practice before or ahead of them and they get to see good role models.”
Two of the aforementioned role models are Caroline Murphy, who was the first U-12 coach, and Samantha MacLean, who’s the current U-12 coach. Murphy and MacLean were Yale team captains in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
“The ability of our girls to have that level of coaching and mentoring is really impressive,” Sather said. “Both were close to Mandi Schwartz so there was an emotional tie.”
Emotional might be the appropriate adjective to describe what the U-12 team accomplished in its first season.
Not only did it win the Green Mountain Tournament but, more importantly, it captured the Connecticut Girls’ Hockey League Division I state championship.
“I don’t think anybody prior to that season could have imagined that,” Sather said. “Once we went through our tryouts, we realized we had a good group of girls. We wanted to build good chemistry and it just happened that they won those tournaments.
“It wasn’t our goal to win those tournaments. We just wanted them to have fun and teach them how to play a good brand of hockey.”
Another way coaches have helped the girls play “a good brand of hockey” is by utilizing the principles of the American Development Model.
“We adopted a model of the ADM before it was adopted by the CGHL,” Sather said. “It allowed us to get more kids on the ice with more touches.
“It was a natural feeder into the U-12 program.”
That natural feeder paid major dividends again this past season when Sather’s U-14 team annexed another CGHL Division I state title.
“I think what we’re able to do is provide a high-quality and scholar-athlete experience for a group of girls that otherwise might not have found that,” Sather said. “Often girls’ hockey in New England is populated by teams that are regional in nature and drive incredible distances.
“There are a lot of girls who love the game and are looking for something other than Tier I hockey. Yale has been able to provide that opportunity and we’re also committed to academics.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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