It's not like they set out to lose, but the women of Western are OK with their Game One loss. After all, that's how last year's hockey champions started their run.
The Western women's hockey team fell, 3-1, Thursday to the gold-clad women of Adirondack who proved worthy of the luster at the Empire State Games. But the Western roster features several faces from last year's silver-winning squad who saw Long Island creep back from a first-day loss to claim the spot atop the podium after finishing 4-1.
"It's easier for us to look at that and say, 'Look, we're not done,' " said Western coach Kristin Steele of Williamsville. "It was Adirondack that beat them pretty bad [4-1] last year, too."
"We're just standing on pins and needles now, waiting for other teams to falter," center Maggie Giamo said. "You'd like to think we could win it for ourselves and not just watch scores come in and hope others lose, but that's not the situation we're in."
Western's second game is at 10 a.m. today against Hudson Valley, and the women want improvement.
"We came out with our heads moving faster than our hands," Giamo said. "We looked like a bunch of 5-year-olds just whacking the puck in the middle of the ice. We stepped on the ice way too overconfident."
Giamo is reunited with several former teammates in her third and final year playing for Western. A member of the boys ice hockey team at Orchard Park and the Buffalo Bisons hockey program, Giamo played at Nichols her sophomore year for the only high school in New York State with a varsity women's ice hockey team. Western teammates Erica Owczarczak, Pam Zgoda, Brigitte Cellino and Grace Waters all play at Nichols and are also in their third year of competition with the Empire team.
"That's why it's that much more surprising we didn't play well together," Giamo said. "Some of us have been playing together for seven years or so."
Western kept Adirondack scoreless through the first period, thanks to netminder Kim Sass rejecting all the second-chance shots Adirondack tried to squeak in. The second period proved less benign to the women in navy. Just 1:04 into the period, Adirondack scored its first goal on a crisp pass from Alley Bero to Jamie Goldsmith in front of the net.
"They were so much smarter than we were when they didn't have the puck," Giamo said. "You could tell they were always looking for the next play."
Even with the deficit, Western lacked urgency, making ineffective clears out of their zone while struggling to possess the puck in the middle of the ice. Six minutes later, it was hurt again when Goldsmith found herself one-on-one with the goalie, putting the puck over Sass' left shoulder.
Steele said her girls were playing too individualized in the beginning and needed the dressing-room break between the second and third periods to get their heads on straight, which they did -- kind of. While Western allowed another Bero goal five minutes into the last period, the team ended up splitting the third, scoring on a blue-collar play with 22.3 seconds remaining. Rochester's Jillian Cardella belly-flopped in front of the goal, nudging the puck through the goalie's legs.
"I just did one move around, lost my balance a bit, but took a jab that went through the five-hole," Cardella said.
Steele hopes the third-period spark -- and nothing else -- carries through to today's game.
"The third period showed what we can do out there," Steele said. "The first and second, we can gladly leave behind."