If one happens to ask “Who’s that masked man?” between the pipes at a Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation boys game this season, just go to the penalty box.
The proper way to ask the aforementioned question these days in Fed circles is “Who is that masked goalie?” because there’s a good chance the last line of defense is a girl.
West Seneca East, Lockport and defending Federation large school champion Niagara-Wheatfield each have a female goalie on their respective rosters. Sydney Glynn, Jillian Long and Alexis Becker aren’t the first girls to suit up for Fed teams, and they likely won’t be the last given the popularity of hockey in Western New York.
What is unusual, however, is that for at least the early part of the season, Glynn of West Seneca East and Long of Lockport have already started the majority of their respective teams’ games.
“I think it’s cool that we’re all trying to play with boys,” said Becker, a 16-year-old junior who played 12 games during the past two seasons on N-W’s junior varsity team but has yet to start a game in her first season on the varsity Falcons.
“I think the level of girls hockey in this area is definitely improving so they can now compete with the boys,” said Peter Becker, Alexis’ father, who has also coached boys and girls hockey for 13 years with the Niagara Junior Purple Eagles program. “I think goaltending is different because they’re not checking [the goalies] so they’re not getting physically beat up. ... It’s more of a skill position. They definitely have to be tough to compete.”
Mentally tough being perhaps the most important intangible. Glynn, a 16-year-old junior, has proven that in her four starts.
Glynn, who played the past two seasons in the girls WNY Hockey Federation, has begun her rookie season with the Trojans with two wins and two ties through the team’s first six games. She made 17 saves to earn her first shutout against perennial Fed small schools contender Sweet Home last Saturday in a scoreless tie at the Northtown Center.
The toughest part about that shutout; Glynn’s teammates carried the play against Sweet Home, firing 49 shots on Panthers goalie James Poreda. That meant Glynn endured more lulls in the action than she prefers since most of the action was roughly 190 feet away.
“They’re definitely not my [favorite situations],” Glynn said. “I’m really glad that we pulled off the tie. Many more [shutouts] to come hopefully. There’s definitely pressure and butterflies but if you keep your cool then normally we can capitalize. That’s definitely the toughest part, just watching them and watching him save all those pucks ... definitely the most nerve-racking part.”
Glynn followed the shutout with a 31-save effort in a 4-3 overtime win over Williamsville East on Monday.
“A lot of people underestimate me and that’s what gives me all my strength because I just want to show people just because it is a male dominant sport doesn’t mean girls can’t be just as good at it,” she said. “I just have to keep my game up.”
Long, a 17-year-old who will graduate from Lockport next month, has played in each of her team’s three games, including two starts. Like her team, she’s winless, but Long has helped the Lions — who won only two games last year — be more competitive. Since she opted for early graduation next month — a decision she made before trying out for the hockey team — she has until roughly mid-January to earn a win.
Unlike Glynn (5-foot-8) and Becker (5-7), Long is a petite 5-3 but is very quick, something she proved when she denied a Clarence shooter’s bid to score low glove side on a breakaway in a recent game. It looked like the shooter went for the proper corner, but Long’s pad kicked out quicker than an eye blink. She thwarted another breakaway chance seconds later. She yielded four goals on 36 shots in the loss.
“She helps us out a lot,” said Lockport senior captain Ricky Eberhart.
So why are these talented girls playing against boys?
Glynn and Becker are simply ambitious. They want to play Division I women’s hockey in college and believe playing against boys provides the best chance to improve their games and get noticed.
“It’s more competitive and it makes me a better goalie,” said Becker, who also plays girls hockey with the Buffalo Bisons’ 16-under team and will see some playing time with N-W, according to coach Rick Wrazin.
“I faced a lot of shots but girls shots and boys shots are two different things,” said Glynn, who helped the Bisons’ 16-under girls reach the USA Hockey Tournament final last year and is playing boys youth hockey this season with the Hamburg Hawks 16-Under travel team. “I just feel the quality of shots on the boys are just better. ... But I did have a lot of fun playing with the girls and the coaches were supportive of me.”
Long, who played on Lockport’s modified team as a seventh- and eighth-grader, figured, why not?
“I remember it being fun [on modified],” said Long, who also plays for the Bisons’ girls 19-under travel team. “It was my senior year, so I figured I might as well try it. I didn’t want to regret [not having tried it later in life].”
Why didn’t she tryout sooner? “I was worried it’d be too difficult,” she said. “Now that I’m here, it’s not that difficult. ... I think it’s a good way to close out high school. It was good to save it for the last year.”
Glynn, unlike Long and Becker, goes to school in a district that offers girls hockey.
In fact, Glynn was one of many who helped champion the cause for the West Seneca district to start up a girls team, one of the dominoes that needed to fall to result in the formation of the girls Western New York Hockey Federation two years ago. She made 54 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss in the playoff semifinals to Williamsville in 2011. Last year, she earned second team all-league honors.
In 2009, she told The News she didn’t like playing on the school district’s boys junior varsity team because, “They were really mean. They didn’t want me on the team. They didn’t appreciate me at all. And I wanted to play with girls.”
So what changed?
“I think it’s getting older and realizing just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean that I’m not good,” Glynn said. “I don’t regret my decision at all. I’m loving it.”
“So far the experience has been good for our team,” West Seneca East coach Daniel Goldie said. “She plays her angles very well and has a very good work ethic and positive attitude. She doesn’t back down. That’s another good thing about her. She’s a fighter. ... She’s not afraid.”
She’s not the only one.
“I think it’s good for them,” Peter Becker said. “They should want to do better than the boys.”