Hampton girls hockey players spring into action

Saturday, May 25, 2024 | 11:01 AM

One of the biggest challenges for the Hampton skaters in the PIHL girls league is something most athletes take for granted.

“We didn’t know each other’s names,” junior forward Danica Gynn said of her WPIAL-scattered teammates on Team Central. “Usually we just yell, ‘Yeah,’ or ‘Here,’ or just scream random words.”

Gynn is one of four Hampton girls who play for Team Central in the nine-team spring-time ice hockey league, along with senior defender Kaylee Lazaro, sophomore forward Marli Dankmyer and freshman defender Theresa Warner.

The 17-player Team Central roster, put together by the PIHL board before the season, includes girls from 12 wide-spread high schools, including Beaver, Bentworth, Oakland Catholic and Shaler.

The league, in its third year, allows teams to practice only four times all season, which leads to some issues with familiarity among teammates.

“At first, it is very challenging and difficult,” said Lazaro, the team captain. “That is a part of the struggle, getting to know a lot of different people. But the more you play with them, you get more comfortable.”

Last season, the Hampton girls were placed on Team Northeast, which drew from an entirely different group of schools. The previous year, the league’s first, Lazaro and Gynn played for PIHL runner-up Team Central with another diverse collection of skaters.

“I still have to get to know my teammates,” Gynn said. “Most of them I haven’t met before. It’s a little difficult.”

Dankmyer said the ability to meet and play with athletes from other schools is part of the league’s attraction. Hampton is the most well-represented school on Team Central. No other school has more than two players on the roster.

Central, led by first-year coach Charleigh Wagner, entered its regular-season finale against South on May 23 with a 3-6 record and was preparing for the PIHL playoffs starting May 28-29. The championship game is June 3 at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

“Our record isn’t great, but every game has been a one-or two-goal game,” Wagner said. “It’s always a tight one. We just seem to be on the other end of it.”

Central has lost four one-goal games (all by a 3-2 score) and despite the losing record, its goal differential was only minus-2 (25 goals for, 27 against).

“It’s been tough, losing that many close games,” said Warner, a first-year PIHL skater who started playing hockey at age 5. “But I do think we’re getting better.”

Lazaro had a goal and an assist and Gynn added two assists in a 6-4 victory over North on April 18 at Central’s home rink, Ice Castle Arena in Castle Shannon. Lazaro also had a power-play goal in a 4-0 win over Northeast on May 15 in Altoona.

Lazaro, who will play at New England (N.H.) College, has been invaluable to Wagner. The coach was hired at the last minute after being an assistant in the league for the previous two seasons.

“I only had one practice before our first game — it was actually the day before our game — to determine a captain,” Wagner said. “Kaylee stood out very clearly as the captain.”

Wagner, who played collegiately at McKendree (Ill.), said all of the Hampton players bring something different.

She called Dankmyer “an aggressive player,” adding, “I really like her playing style.”

Wagner said Warner belies her age as a ninth-grader.

“She’s built a lot bigger than a freshman, so she has been a huge help on defense for us. She’s really smart. She will improve a lot over the next four years.”

And Wagner was “definitely surprised” by the diminutive Gynn’s skill level.

“She’s a little bit on the smaller side,” Wagner said, “but she’s super fast and she loves to get up in the play.”

The league has grown from six teams in 2022 to nine teams this season. The Hampton skaters believe more girls are on the way.

“I feel like it could keep growing,” Dankmyer said. “Especially in a smaller school district, you could feel really isolated as being one of the few girls who play hockey for that school district. So being able to meet a lot more girls who do play and see the organization grow and see how many more girls want to join, it’s just a really great experience to be a part of.”


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