The girls who recently completed their time with the Buffalo Regals put a lot into the program.
They’re also getting a lot of it.
Six of the eight girls who graduated from the Regals’ 19U team this season have made commitments to continue playing hockey at the NCAA Division III level, all at State University of New York schools. Emma Ruggiero, Megan Reukauf and Maddy Kromer will all continue playing together at Buffalo State while Brie McFall heads off the Oswego State, Grace Page goes to Canton and Tatum Walber to Potsdam.
Tom Ruggiero, the association’s girls’ travel director for the past three seasons, arrived in the program with his daughter, Emma, for the 2010-11 season. The group Emma played with has been a big part of the Regals’ growth.
As a 14U team in 2012, they broke through by completing a series of dramatic wins to finish as USA Hockey Tier II national runners-up. At the time, the Buffalo association only had their 14U team and one older Tier II team. In the years since, the Regals have ascended to Tier I and, instead of seeking to fill teams on a year-to-year basis, have built teams at each age level: 19U, 16U, 14U, 12U and 10U.
“We had a good first year, and we started adding teams from there,” Tom Ruggiero said. “A lot of good things, a lot of coaches and, fortunately, we’ve had a good run building up the program.
“You never know how long it’s going to last, but it’s a good opportunity and a good situation for a lot of girls, and we’ll keep it going as long as we can.”
Ruggiero coached the 16U team to a Tier I New York state title and national quarterfinal appearance in 2014. The Regals also won the state Tier I 14U title last season.
He coached the 12U and 19U teams this season, which joined the 16U squad in giving the Regals three state runners-up on the Tier I level. Next season, he will lead the 14U team.
When the tryouts are done and the Regals set their 17-player Tier I rosters, Ruggiero has options for the remaining girls..
“Every team had to make cuts,” Ruggiero said of the Cheektowaga-based program. “The good thing with the girls’ game is that other organizations do have Tier II teams. You never know on any given year who’s going to have a given age group. The numbers aren’t always there to fill all those teams.
“At the same time, we have an idea who’s going to be stronger and can make recommendations. At the end of the day, we want the girls have a place where they want to play. Most of the coaches in the area, we have a relationship with and talk back and forth.”
In addition to the Regals’ thriving Tier I teams and their willingness to help place girls on other nearby Tier II teams, the program might revive a third offering for girls next season: a house league.
Linda Groff-Mroz, the Regals’ girls’ house director since 2009, ran a unique house league for five seasons before having a dormant season this winter. She is working now to see if there is interest in resuming the house league next season.
In this format, the house program places girls ages 7-17 together for Saturday practices and Sunday games. Each team has players spread across those ages, but line changes are carefully organized to provide two two-minute shifts per period for “A” players (high-school age), “B” players (middle-school age) and “C” players (elementary school), so that each age group competes on its own level.
“The younger ones adapt quickly, and the older ones have an opportunity to mentor the younger ones,” said Groff-Mroz, who played in the NCAA Division I Frozen Four with Niagara University in 2002 and is also a local high school ice hockey, field hockey and lacrosse coach. “The girls seem to really enjoy it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.