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Local Talent Shines in Girls U14 and U16 National Tournament

by Caitlin Kasunich / Pittsburgh Penguins
After competing in the USA Hockey National Championship for the past four years, Team Pittsburgh finally came out on top last Sunday after dominating the defending champion Assabet Valley, 5-1, in the Girls Tier I U14 championship game.

This was not the first time that the two teams battled against each other for a championship title. Just two years ago, Team Pittsburgh and Assabet Valley faced off in the 12U finals. After an epic battle which lasted eight overtime periods, Assabet Valley skated away with a heartbreaking 2-1 victory.

But the players of Team Pittsburgh were not about to let victory slip through their fingers again this season as they stepped onto the ice at the Cornerstone Community Center in Green Bay, Wis. Team manager Sue Lewicki said that the girls’ road to the finals did not come without important obstacles and hardships along the way.

“Our goal this year was to basically build a team that could win nationals,” Lewicki said. “We struggled all year long. We had one tournament all year. We kept getting knocked out of tournaments until February. Finally, in February, we won the Silver Stick competition up in Canada. It was the first tournament that we won all year. We spent the month of March practicing and getting ready for this.”

In order to secure the victory in the national competition, however, players of Team Pittsburgh knew that they would eventually have to go through Assabet Valley. Prior to this year’s nationals, Team Pittsburgh played Assabet Valley twice in the regular season, with Pittsburgh winning, 2-0, in October, and losing, 1-0, in December.

“(Assabet Valley) has a strong hockey program over there, so they’re always in the final game or the semifinal games trying to win championships every year,” Lewicki said.

While the players and parents felt a bit nervous and overwhelmed prior to the start of the competition, Lewicki said that the team’s head coach, Greg Carter, always felt confident that the girls had what it took to win the contest. 

“We have girls who come in from many places,” Lewicki said. “Silver Stick in Canada and the national tournament were the only two tournaments where we had everybody there. With everybody there, (Carter) was not nervous at all. He knew that these girls could do it.”

The players of Team Pittsburgh hail from all over the United States, including western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Maryland.

Among the players hailing from western Pennsylvania were Makenna Newkirk, Ireland Mooney, Kelli Mackey, Haley Branovan, Taylor Cestra, Monica Cramer and Christina Zalewski.

Newkirk and Cramer tied for second in scoring during the tournament with three goals and three assists apiece. Cestra went 4-0 between the pipes with a 0.84 goals-against average.

In addition to Team Pittsburgh’s victory, Shattuck-Saint Mary's, a prep school located in Faribault, Minn., also grabbed a national championship title in the Girls Tier I U16 division after the team defeated Little Caesars, 4-1. Stephanie Lemieux, daughter of Hall of Fame Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, is a forward for Shattuck-St. Mary's.

Stephanie was one of the stars of the championship game, recording two goals and an assist. She finished the tournament ranked in the top 10 in scoring with four goals and an assists in six games.

Indeed, it was an exceptional year for both Team Pittsburgh and Shattuck-Saint Mary's, whose players seized national championship titles and once again raised the profile of amateur hockey in the city of Pittsburgh.

“We have gone to nationals for the last four years, and this is the first year that a Pittsburgh team has won nationals,” Lewicki said of Team Pittsburgh. “It was four years in the making, but it was well worth the wait.”
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