The New England Junior Falcons have gone from one split-season girls’ team to 100 girls on the program’s six travel teams in just five years.
There is no end in sight for that growth.
Falcons girls’ director Carol Lessard said the Enfield, Conn.-based program planned to conduct tryouts in late April with the goal of filling 10 teams for the 2014-15 season.
Lessard has worked in an administrative role at the Enfield Twin Rinks and served as the Falcons girls’ director for the five-year growth period. She points to two primary reasons for the increased interest in playing for the association based in the northwest part of the state on the Massachusetts border.
First, the Falcons have succeeded in making themselves attractive both to players who want to use the program as a steppingstone to the many prominent prep school programs in the region as well as those players who want the Falcons to be their main hockey focus.
Second, under the guidance of Tom O’Connor, one of the team’s owners, the Falcons have built a strong coaching staff that attracts interested players and families.
“We’re pleased with our numbers,” Lessard said. “I think one of the things we do well is that several of our players through the years have attended prep schools, and I think part of the reason is the affiliation with our program. We work with the prep schools.”
Many of the high school/prep school players in New England compete in half-season leagues before their school season starts.
The Falcons had a split-season team on the Under-19 level and a full-season team on the U16 level this season. They will enter into tryouts looking to see if they can field split- and full-season teams on both of those higher age levels for 2014-15.
“Not all of our skaters attend prep school or wish to attend prep school,” Lessard said. “We always provide a high-level team for the girls who play for us full-season as well. We’re not here just to fill the prep schools, but some of our girls have educational options that they would not have had if they did not skate for our program.
“But we have other girls who have gone on to be very successful who also stayed here and played for our local high schools or our U19 teams.”
Lessard said the concentration on recruiting and keeping quality coaches has also played a key role in helping the Falcons keep players in the program as they progress through the age groups. The team competes in the Massachusetts district and the Massachusetts state tournament because the bulk of its roster comes from that state.
While they draw from around western Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Falcons also attract players from Vermont and New Hampshire who travel in to Enfield to be part of the teams.
The New England Girls’ Hockey League helps in the process with a large membership and its ability to provide options for keeping teams paired in divisions that make games competitive.
The list of alumni from the Junior Falcons girls’ team includes Kacey Bellamy, who went on to play for the Berkshire School, the University of New Hampshire and most recently the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team that won a silver medal in Sochi, Russia.
When members of the Olympic women’s team were given the opportunity to select youth hockey organizations to receive 12 sets of OneGoal starter equipment as a donation, Bellamy chose The Junior Falcons program.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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