When Jim McCarthy exited his team’s locker room after its 2-1 double-overtime semifinal playoff loss to West Seneca at the Northtown Center, the Orchard Park/Frontier girls hockey coach presented a giant grin and said, “How can you do anything but smile?”
He was right.
After all, the Orchard Park/Frontier girls hockey team carried into double overtime a strong West Seneca squad that boasted a 16-2 regular season record and defeated Orchard Park/Frontier three times this year.
But Orchard Park/Frontier had already proven it can pull off an upset. The team advanced to the semifinals by capturing a 2-1 overtime win against Williamsville, a team to which it also lost all three regular season meetings.
Orchard Park/Frontier’s magic ran out against West Seneca, but they made their opponents work for more than 56 minutes without giving in or giving up.
“You work all year to try and develop a product for this exact moment,” said McCarthy after the game, citing the challenge of putting together a young team from two schools. “We are trying to put together a product from Frontier and Orchard Park. We came out and won the first game of the playoffs. Our product that we have been working on (during practices) at 5:30 in the morning for the past five months – the product we showed – how could you be anything but proud by what these girls showed?”
As much as McCarthy and assistant coach Lucian Forcucci have preached the importance of developing skills at the team’s early-morning practices, McCarthy suggested his team’s most important attribute is heart.
“When push comes to shove, you have to play with heart, and that’s what they did tonight,” said McCarthy. “It’s really hard to compete against a team that plays with that much heart.”
Playing with heart is an aspect of a team that can easily be attributed to the strong relationship and trust that McCarthy and Forcucci have built with their players. It has encouraged their team to play its very best hockey when it means the most.
After the loss to West Seneca, but before McCarthy could speak with the media, one of his players came out of the locker room in tears. The coach quickly embraced the young woman as if she was his own daughter, consoling the emotional player after a very difficult defeat. The hug could not have been any more symbolic of the bond between player and coach.
“I don’t care that we lost the game. It doesn’t matter,” McCarthy said in his post-game interview. “Coaching is about teaching lessons, and these girls learned some valuable lessons. They learned how to stick together and they learned that when you work hard, good things happen. I am so proud. If you told me I could coach any team, this is the one I want.”
Orchard Park/Frontier finished the season with a record of 7 wins and 13 losses.
McCarthy and Forcucci will have several members of this year’s squad returning next year. The team, which boasted 10 freshmen this season, will graduate just three seniors: goalie Danielle Glinski, and Chelsea Ortolano and Brittany Nephew.
Returning to the team will be the squad’s leading scorer, Bernadette O’Connell, as well as every defenseman from a group that McCarthy calls the best in the league and credits for keeping the team competitive this season.
“Our defensive core is better than any defensive core in the league,” McCarthy said of Nadine de Njis, Alexa Ditonto, Olivia Jacobs, Katie Page, Ava Simoncelli, and Jessica Urbank. “I know that may sound over the top, but there is no group of defensemen that play the game better than ours. They move the puck. They’re physical. They’re smart.
“They do everything they’re supposed to do. They stay up in the neutral zone. They intercept passes. The core of our team starts on defense and I’ll put them up against anybody.”