LAKE PLACID - Thrilled but not satisfied.
After setting a slew of records this season, including a new mark for wins, the National Sports Academy girls hockey team plans to be even more successful in the future. Ultimately, the school is looking to be unrivaled when it comes to developing student-athletes who will continue to compete in women's hockey at the college level.
The Mountaineers wrapped up their 2012-13 schedule on March 8 and 9 with the Junior Women's Hockey League playoffs at the University of North Dakota. The team won three of its four matchups there to finish in third place, with its only loss a 3-1 setback to NAHA in the semifinal round. The three victories there gave the Mountaineers a season record of 50 wins, with their overall record being 50-23-3.
Taylar Cianfarano led the way for the National Sports Academy girls team this season.
The JWHL playoffs signified the end of one era and the beginning of another for girls ice hockey at the prep school in Lake Placid. In January, Selects Hockey and NSA created a new partnership in an effort to increase the school's ability to bring in and develop players.
Under longtime coach Bill Ward, the girls hockey program has already become one of the top providers of players to the collegiate ranks. By combining with Selects Hockey, which is based in Portsmouth, N.H., NSA expects to become even stronger in terms of recruiting, especially when it comes to younger elite players.
"I don't want to settle for anything less than being the best," Ward said. "Selects Hockey will be a big help on the recruiting front. They have a pulse on all the players from across the United States, Canada and around the world. They have access to a huge pool of players."
As a result of the partnership, NSA will put two girls teams on the ice next season with the addition of an under-16 squad to the existing U-19 program. Ward said this should have a huge impact on the development of players, who could potentially have longer stays at the school and in the girls hockey program as student-athletes.
"We've been looking a ways to maintain a decent-size enrollment, and this will certainly help," Ward said. "Our numbers of individual sport athletes tend to fluctuate, but with team sports, there's more consistency. But the other part is a U-16 team will be a feeder for our U-19s."
A former player and coach at NSA who will be working with the school through Selects Hockey is Kelli Vossler, who spent eight years combined as both a player and assistant coach for the Mountaineers.
"The bottom line is Bill can't be everywhere watching every player in the United States and Canada," Vossler said. "Instead of one person handling recruiting, NSA will have a network of easily 10 more scouts out there. The key to the relationship with Selects and NSA is we are working with players who are so young, and they have to be elite players.
"When I was at NSA, one of Bill's major goals was to get players to stay on the team for four years instead of one or two," Vossler continued. "It's only going to benefit the girls more if they are in the program longer. In the 11 years Bill has been the coach, NSA's program has gotten so much better. "
It's easy to see the success that the NSA girls hockey program has experienced just by looking at the number of graduates who have moved on to, and excelled at the college level. A year ago, 2011 NSA graduate Celeste Brown banged home the game-winning goal for RIT in the Division III national championship game. And this year, Alyssa Park, another 2011 graduate, is a top defensive player and a SUNY Athletic Conference All-Academic honoree as a member of Plattsburgh State's unbeaten women's team that is ranked first in the NCAA Division III standings.
"In my 11 years coaching, every player who has been with us for either four or five years has received scholarships to Division I colleges," Ward said. "It isn't a huge number because there aren't a lot of eighth- and ninth-graders who are ready to compete at U-19 level, but there have been some. Having more players in our program for a longer period of time is only going to help that number increase."
This season's team had quite a list of players who have committed to top college programs and have even been key members of national teams. Megan Whiddon, a senior forward who will begin a college career at Mercyhurst, set new scoring records for the Mountaineers this year in goals (83) and points (164) in 75 games played.
Both those marks were previously owned by Taylar Cianfarano, a junior center on the team from Oswego who will play hockey for Division I power Wisconsin following one more year at NSA.
Cianfarano was also on pace for another record-setting season at NSA, but missed more than a dozen starts with the Mountaineers while representing the United States in the under-18 World Championships, which were held in Finland at the end of December and early in January. At the worlds, Cianfarano scored four goals and added two assists, and also had a tournament-best 83.64 win percentage on faceoffs. In 63 games played for the Mountaineers, she had 75 goals and 72 assists, which is second-best on the team.
Junior Denisa Krizova is another talented player on NSA's roster. She was third on the team in scoring, despite playing in just 49 games for the Mountaineers. Krizova missed a good part of the season while playing on the senior national team in her native Czech Republic, as that country looked for its first berth in the Winter Olympics for women's ice hockey. Unfortunately, Krizova and her teammates came up short following a 3-1 loss to Germany.
Krizova finished with 43 goals and 57 assists and 100 points.
Additional records set by the team this year include power-play goals scored with 76, and short-handed goals with 22. A number that coach Ward said he was extremely proud of was his team's penalty kill, which gave up 21 power-play goals - one less than the number of shorthanded tallies the Mountaineers buried.
Other colleges that players on this season's NSA team will attend include Clarkson, Syracuse, Boston College, Norwich, Manhattanville and Northeastern.
"Bill has been pushing the program at NSA to higher and higher levels, and he's not going to stop," Vossler said. "He's always looking for new opportunities for the girls."
"Seeing our girls move on to top schools in one thing, but what satisfies me even more is seeing the success the kids are having in college," Ward said. "I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to help develop a ton of players who have succeeded at the next level. I'm in it for them."
In addition to having two teams competing next season, NSA girls hockey will have a new name and a new look when they hit the ice. Both teams will be known as Selects Academy at NSA, and instead of wearing red, white and blue, their colors will be red, white and black. They will also drop the NSA logo in favor of a shield featuring a linked emblem, which is the logo of Selects Hockey's parent company, Legacy Global Sports.