Imagine if somebody threw a large party and nobody showed up.
That’s basically what happened when the Boston Junior Eagles decided prior to the 2010-11 season to add a girls’ program.
“At the first tryout, I thought we’d get 20 to 25 girls, and we only got seven,” Junior Eagles Girls’ Director Mike Mullowney said. “Most importantly we didn’t have a goalie.
“I had a flyer made up and went around to 20 rinks and stapled it on the walls. As it turned out, we only had 13 girls the first year. We were scrambling that first year to find 13. We were nervous because we didn’t know if we would have a full roster.”
Now, fast-forward to the 2013-14 season, and the Junior Eagles have Under-10 and Under-12 full-season teams that play in the New England Girls’ Hockey League; two U14 full-season teams (Maroon Tier I and Gold Tier II) that also play in the NEGHL; and a U14 high school team that plays until mid-November when formal practices end, but the team continues to play in the NEGHL.
“Last year we had over 100 girls try out for the U14 team,” Mullowney said. “We could have fielded six teams, but we only fielded three teams.
“We’re not trying to grow as fast as possible. We want to do it the right way. But it’s absolutely going to continue to grow.”
The Junior Eagles’ girls’ program hatched when Mullowney, who had coached on the boys’ side, went to Junior Eagles president and former Boston College captain John Joyce with the suggestion.
“My daughter was playing for the East Coast Wizards, which was a hike for us — 45 minutes each way, which was too much,” Mullowney said. “At the end of the season I said, ‘Girls’ hockey is off the charts, so let’s start a girls’ program.’
“[Joyce is] in the business of youth hockey, and girls’ hockey really had been growing. He also has a daughter, and he said ‘Let’s try it.’ We had one team that first year, and then it snowballed.”
The Junior Eagles’ strong growth was exemplified by last season’s U12 team, which not only won the Massachusetts state championship but also won a national title when Kelly Browne scored a goal with nine ticks of the clock left in the overtime session.
And prior to nationals, the Junior Eagles (who finished 40-4-5) had to get by traditional powerhouse Assabet Valley, which they did in the state finals.
“Going in, we had played Assabet Valley about six times, and each game was very even,” Mullowney said. “We knew we’d see them in the finals. We couldn’t wait for the opportunity. Every game [in the state championship] was close, and we wanted to play them because they’re the best.
“In order to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
The Junior Eagles didn’t even get a chance to play the best, let alone beat the best, the two seasons prior in 2010-11.
“That first year, the U10 team beat the Breakers to win what was then the Eastern Hockey League,” Mullowney said. “That got us on the map. But the state organization wouldn’t let us play in the state tournament the first year because we didn’t have at least three teams.
“We were ineligible the first two years, and it was really frustrating. The rules were clear, but we knew we could do well.”
Mullowney almost was at a loss for words while trying to explain why the U12 team hit a hockey jackpot last season.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “The easiest answer was we found really good kids and parents. They were on board from Day 1. Over time, it started to snowball.”
In one sense, the Junior Eagles program has “snowballed” to the point that three defenders, Maggie Curran, Julia MacLean and Taylor Matherson, were selected to represent Massachusetts at the USA Hockey Girls’ U14 National Development Camp in July in St. Cloud, Minn.
“It’s the very best of the best,” Mullowney said. “We were very proud of that and didn’t anticipate that.”
Not surprisingly, there’s more to the Junior Eagles than meets the eye.
“No. 1, we work incredibly hard,” Mullowney said. “We have an off-ice training coach [in former Boston College strength and conditioning coach Mike Poidomani] who works with the girls two or three times a week. He’s been a huge addition.
“We pretty much play year-round including tournaments. We’ve even gone to Canada because we’re always looking to play the very best.
“It’s having the right people who are committed to working hard,” Mullowney continued. “We’ve been very fortunate in that our tryouts have been incredibly competitive.”
Competitive tryouts by extension lead to competitive teams. That’s why several Junior Eagles have their sights set on continuing to play hockey after they graduate from the program.
“We already have quite a few girls that are talking about playing Division I hockey,” Mullowney said. “I’m going to do all that I can to help them succeed. We have some incredibly talented players and great kids — plus there isn’t an NHL for girls.
“To me, it’s a realistic goal for many girls to have. I think it’s an incredible opportunity.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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