When the Ohio Flames players walk into their locker room, they can’t help but the pictures of notice alumni on the wall of fame.
“We have on the wall in our locker room pictures of girls who’ve gone on to play college hockey,” said Darin Gillis, the Flames’ hockey director. “Girls see that wall of fame. By the end of their time with the Flames, they know where everyone was.”
Indeed. Among the Flames alumni whose pictures are on the wall of fame are two 2010 U.S. Olympians: Kelli Stack, who was also one of three finalists for the 2011 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award that is given to the most outstanding women’s college hockey player, and Brianne McLaughlin.
In addition, the wall includes Gina Buquet who graduated last spring from Mercyhurst University and who received the Elite 89 award at the 2013 NCAA Division I Women’s Hockey Championship. The Elite 89 Award is presented to the student-athlete with the highest GPA who participated in the finals.
Current Mercyhurst forward Maggie Rothgery, a two-time USA Hockey National Camp attendee who was the 2008 USA Hockey Under-14 National Skills Champion, is also on the wall, as is Tracy McCann, who plays for Minnesota State University, Mankato. She was a National Skills Champion runner-up and who participated in the USA Hockey Select 17 Festival. USA Hockey Director of Women’s Hockey Reagan Carey is on the wall as well.
“Our goal is to grow hockey in the Ohio area,” said Gillis, whose daughter Lauryn plays for SUNY Cortland. “We’re Cleveland-centric. We have girls from Pittsburgh, Columbus, Indiana and parts of Kentucky. You have girls who live on the borderline in Michigan and aren’t able to make one of the Detroit teams. We pride ourselves on taking that young lady who can’t make teams like Little Caesar’s and coaching her up to become the best hockey player she can be.
“We’re very loyal to our Flames girls and want to retain them. But if that allows them the next year to go to the Detroit teams, that’s okay. There’s a bigger picture rom a girls’ hockey standpoint.”
The Flames play in the Tier I Elite Hockey League and this season have teams at the 10-Under Select, 12-Under Select, 14-Under Tier I, 16-Under Tier I and 19-Under Tier I levels.
“We’re in one of the best leagues in the country,” Gillis said. “We enjoy being in it because it gives our girls the highest level of competition.
“Because Cleveland is a smaller hockey area than Detroit, we have to pull in girls. You want to put the best team on the ice and also grow hockey in general, in Cleveland plus the Mid-America District in particular. The Mid-American district is a smaller hockey market. From a skill development perspective, it’s paid off in terms of how many girls we’ve been able to put into college hockey.”
Two other factors enter into this equation when it comes to developing girls to play college hockey.
The first factor is traveling to tournaments. During a typical season, the Flames participate in three or four elite showcases in cities such as Detroit, Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.
“We supplement the rest of the year by going to highly-scouted tournaments that provide our girls with the highest-visibility for colleges,” Gillis said.
The second factor is hosting a tournament. The Flames host the Harrow Ignite the Ice Women’s Hockey Tournament, which was held for the 10th time in September. The 2013 tournament involved more than 60 teams encompassing about 1,100 players.
“Playing AAA hockey and traveling all over to expose girls to colleges is expensive,” Gillis said. “From our perspective, this tournament is highly-scouted. It provides all of the teams the opportunity to be looked at by colleges.
“It allows college scouts the opportunity to see girls who are from a geographical area they may not be able to reach.”
Perhaps even more important is the fact the Harrow tournament is the Flames’ single-biggest fundraiser, which is crucial in terms of funding the organization and keeping the cost of playing hockey as reasonable as possible.
“It’s a challenge when you have all the different teams,” Gillis said. “We have an active board of directors and fantastic coaches and team managers.
“The end result is you’re helping the older girls pursue hockey as long as possible and you’re helping the younger girls develop a love of the game.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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