Late in the second period of a recent game, Williamsville junior Emma Roland had the puck roughly a stride inside the opponent’s blue line. To the casual observer, it didn’t look like she was in position to do much other than stick handle.
Suddenly, with a quick flick of the wrists, the leading scorer in the Western New York Girl's Varsity Hockey Federation uncorked a high, hard shot though a screen that cleanly picked the corner to put her team on the scoreboard.
That goal sums up the type of year it has been for Roland. It’s been sizzling.
Roland leads the Fed in goals (27), assists (21) and points (48) in 17 games. The next closest on the Fed scoring list is Clarence/Amherst/Sweet Home’s Emma Faso with 20 goals and 31 points in 13 games.
“I think I always try to work hard,” Roland said. “Especially recently, I’ve tried to work on my creativity, which has helped me probably score some goals.”
“She’s just a dangerous player,” Williamsville coach Rick Hopkins said. “She’s a threat to go the distance when she has the puck in our zone and a threat to score anytime she’s over the blue line. She’s been a great addition.”
This is Roland’s second year with Williamsville but first since she was an eighth-grader. As a freshman and sophomore, Roland played for various travel teams, whose schedules didn’t make it possible to play for her high school team. Roland is still playing travel hockey, but the Niagara Jr. Purple Eagles’ schedule is such that she’s able to play with her classmates.
“It's awesome,” Roland said. “Having that school logo to represent is always a good feeling.
“It’s been a fun time with my teammates at school because for high school hockey, you really get to know the girls,” added Roland, noting that members of the team who go to the same school tend to see each other, unlike travel teams, which have players who often attend different schools. “We fight hard and work hard.”
Roland isn’t the only elite travel player in the Federation. Among the others are FLOP junior defenseman and Providence College commit Brooke Becker and Kenmore/Grand Island’s Abby Blair, who also plays for the North Buffalo Bisons and has committed to play hockey at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.
“You love to have the best players in Western New York playing in the girls Federation as well as their travel teams,” Hopkins said. “Emma’s just a dynamic player who sees the ice well and her hands are phenomenal. ... She has such a quick release. She has a tremendous set of hands and is a dynamic skater.”
Hopkins added that Roland is also a great defender and a relentless back checker.
“She’s an elite player,” Hopkins said. “She plays Tier I hockey. You’d like to have as many Tier I players as you can. She’s in that category of being in the top three players in the league. Almost half of our offense she’s been involved with.”
Roland hopes to continue having the hot hand for Williamsville (11-3-0), which opens the Section VI Tournament on Tuesday. No. 2-seeded Williamsville faces seventh-seeded Niagara County at 4:30 p.m. in the first of three quarterfinals at Northtown Center. Semifinals are Thursday with defending state and Federation champion Frontier/Lake Shore/Orchard Park (12-1-1) serving as the No. 1 seed and receiving a bye into the sectional final four.
The final is Feb. 4 at HarborCenter with the tournament champion advancing to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Tournament on Feb. 8-9, which also will be held at HarborCenter.
Williamsville is a perennial contender but has yet to qualify for a state tournament.
“We just have to keep pushing hard because any team can beat any team in our league,” Roland said.
Roland, who received a chance to play before the home folks during Williamsville North field hockey’s run to the state final and scored in the championship game loss, would love to have another chance to play in a state tournament in a familiar venue.
“States for field hockey was a very cool experience,” Roland said. “To have the same thing for ice hockey down at HarborCenter would just be unreal.”