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William Pavone: Girls ice hockey league is making great strides

Feb. 15 marked the completion of the Western New York girls varsity ice hockey league’s third season. It was the best one so far – closer games, higher skill level and a first-time trip to Canton for the state title. Kenmore won the public school Section VI title for the second consecutive year and Monsignor Martin repeated as league champion. Four of the seven teams have won titles in the first three years.

Buffalo is affectionately known as Hockey Heaven. We have our beloved Sabres and many levels of amateur and collegiate hockey. The continued growth of girls/womens hockey was fueled by the U.S. women winning gold in the ’98 Olympic Games in Nagano. Female registration for USA Hockey increases every year. Girls absolutely love to play hockey.

Early in January, James Rusin, athletic director for the Williamsville Central School District, lost his brief battle with cancer. He was an integral part of his community and the hockey scene. He was a founder of the High School Boys Hockey Federation and chairman of the Girls Federation. In 2007, Jim said, “Girls ice hockey is going to happen – it’s just a matter of time.” He was very supportive of a Williamsville parents group trying to establish a new program.

The idea was rejected by the School Board because there were no other teams to play. That’s when several people at a Great Lakes Girls Hockey League board meeting were asked by Rick Hopkins, the Williamsville coach, a parent of female hockey players and current league chairman, to help organize teams for their respective school districts. was formed and our awesome parents group spent the next two and a half years politicking our school boards, superintendents, athletic directors and communities for support. I represented Kenmore schools. Our administrators, School Board and community were very supportive. But it was still a tough road to travel.

One by one, the districts agreed and a league was born in 2010. Jim arranged meetings with school administrators and parents, and obtained grants for ice time to hold “showcase” games before we even had all schools onboard. He was honored to drop the ceremonial first puck at the inaugural game between Williamsville and Monsignor Martin.

The late Herb Brooks once said, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” Our girls finally got the opportunity to play varsity ice hockey, and look at the great moments we’ve all shared. The program has had some growing pains, and we hope to someday share the better ice times and media coverage like the boys league receives, to ensure future sustained growth as an equal partner. Many of our contests begin at 3:50 p.m., which makes it difficult for some people to attend. We sure could use more support. I am confident it will come.

Before the start of the 2013 Federation Championship game, Hopkins presented me with the inaugural Dr. James Rusin Memorial Award, honoring dedication and commitment to girls varsity ice hockey. Thank you to all the coaches who voted for me. My daughter, Laura, graduated last year but I continue to offer my time. It is an honor to be the first one chosen. I proudly wear the blue and gold of Kenmore, but I bleed the colors of all seven teams. Jim would be proud of everyone’s accomplishments so far. Here’s to you, Jim!