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In late December, early January, Buffalo was filled with thousands of fans, tourists and family members from a potpourri of countries. For those who were fortunate enough to attend, they saw the city hold an event in the hockey community second to only the Olympics: the World Junior Championships.

But not only was Buffalo the host city for the boys' competition, it also produced one of the competitors in the girls' tournament, which was held in Stockholm, Sweden.

Emily Pfalzer, a senior at Nichols School, participated in the event in Stockholm. The 17-year-old defenseman, along with the rest of her teammates from around the country, arrived in Sweden on Dec. 27. This gave the players only a week to practice together for the first time since the summer.

Emily and her teammates trained hard and won their first game against the Czech Republic by an impressive score of 11-0. Their winning would continue throughout the tournament. The final game against Canada was Team USA's chance to win the gold that had just escaped them the previous year. Emily and her teammates took the gold with a 5-2 win.

Emily's hockey career began before she was old enough to spell the word. At the age of 2, Emily began skating on her backyard hockey rink with her older brothers. When she turned 4, she began organized hockey, playing on boys' teams in the Amherst Youth Hockey league.

Although the greatest force behind her success is her own passion for the sport, Emily says her coaches at all levels have been encouraging and supportive.

Besides a gold medal, Emily returned to the United States with new experiences and unforgettable memories.

"The best part about Worlds was at the end of the championship game, after we received our gold medals we stood across the blue line as Canada stood across [their blue line]. We stood arm-in-arm and sang as loud as we could as our national anthem played."

Back at home, Emily practices two times a week in Mississauga, Ont. (an almost two-hour drive from her home in Getzville). Along with weekly games, hockey has taken up much of her life.

"I tend to miss a lot of Fridays [at school], and for Worlds I missed a week of school," she said. "All the teachers are really good about me missing class; they give me work ahead of time so it's an easier transition when I get back."

Normally, with so many distractions, one might assume a student's academics would sink below hockey on a level of importance. However, Emily is able to remain dedicated to her tasks on and off the ice. Her success in the classroom, along with her skills in the rink, have led this straight-A student to Boston College.

"I chose Boston College because it has what I want academically, and I love the coaches and team."

Emily plans to study pre-med.

Her advice for other athletes? "Never let anyone tell you that you can't do something, and don't ever stop dreaming."

As her story proves, hard work and dedication pay off in the end, and may even win a gold medal.

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Alyssa Lanoye is a senior at Williamsville North High School.