Girls earning their stripes at Nichols
by Matthew Ondesko/Correspondent
While the western New York area boasts a bevy of boys high school and prep schools hockey teams, the growth of the girls game has been slower by comparison.
Only a handful of schools carry a girls program, with most of them getting their start in the past two years.
One school has had girls hockey for the past eight years but is kind of a secret. Nichols School, a prep school in Buffalo, N.Y., is known for its success in the classroom and its success on the ice — in boys hockey.
But for most of the past decade, the school also has produced a very successful girls program. It’s a program that has seen many of its players going on to play at the Division 1 level in college or for their country.
“The program has gone on for about seven to eight years at this point,” said Nichols coach Scott Welch. “There has been a number of girls that have gone on to play Division 1 hockey, like Princeton, Syracuse, Boston College, Union, Mercyhurst, Northeastern, Vermont, Boston University, Penn State. We have had quite a few players over the past couple of years have success here.”
The program fields both varsity A and varsity B teams. Last year, the A team went 26-3-3, giving up just 42 goals all season.
Success hasn’t come overnight, but through hard work. And the travel is just as hard. With Nichols being one of the few schools in the area to have a varsity girls team, it needs to go elsewhere to find competition.
It found competition in not just one league, but two. Nichols School plays in two leagues over the course of the school year, neither one of them close to home. It plays in Canada for one set of league games and in the North American Prep Hockey League for the other.
Welch said he thinks the rigorous schedule is one of the main reasons girls want to play hockey at Nichols and not in their own districts that field varsity teams, like Williamsville or Kenmore.
The level of competition, and the fact there are a lot of scouts at these games, makes it very interesting for girls with an eye on the next level.
“One, it’s the academics. Nichols certainly prepares you for college,” said Welch. “I also think it’s the level of teams we play and the schedule we play. We play in the North American Prep Hockey League, which is 10 of the best prep schools throughout the country. And we play in the Canadian Prep League, which is the top prep schools out of Canada. Also, this year, we are going up to (Minnesota power) Shattuck St. Mary’s.”
With all the travel, the team and staff have to make sure they are impeccably efficient.
“It is definitely challenging. The kids have to be really organized,” said Welch. “In the Canadian league it could be a 3½-hour trip, so it’s a really aggressive schedule. It’s definitely challenging, but when the kids leave here I think they are really well-prepared, and I think that is what the college coaches are really excited about. Not only are they really well-prepared in the classroom, but on the ice as well.”
Because of the exposure these young women are getting, it makes it easier to be recruited by top-notch colleges.
Seniors Haley Scamurra, Maddie Elia and Kelly Seward signed their National Letters of Intent last month, and a handful of other players are still sifting through offers. Elia will take her talents to nationally ranked Boston University, while Scamurra will head to nationally ranked Northeastern and Seward to Penn State.
“I am very impressed with Kelly’s consistency and well-rounded game,” said Penn State coach Josh Bradwene in a statement. “She possesses great height (5-foot-9), strength, foot speed, on-ice vision and puck distribution skills, complemented by a terrific point shot. She’ll be a defensive force for us.”
“I am so excited to not only have Kelly Seward lead our team this season for Nichols, but to watch her as she takes her game to Penn State next year,” said Welch. “As a defenseman, the key to success is consistency, which is something that I and the other coaches have noticed most about Kelly. While quiet in nature, she lets her actions speak on the ice.”
Elia has led Nichols in scoring in each of the past two years. The fact that these three players have their futures secured is something that could attract future players to the program.
“I think success breeds success,” said Welch. “There have been 36 kids that have left me that have gone on to play college hockey. So I think that kind of feeds on itself.
“And I think the reputation of the school helps, certainly. Whatever their age, their goal is to play college hockey, whether it’s at the Division 1 or Division 3 level. I think a lot of them see this as their stepping stone. To be able to play at that level, it’s playing against the best competition out there and challenging yourself.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of New York Hockey Journal.