RICKY ST. CLAIR
---- — CHAZY — Amidst the blaring sirens, fireworks and freezing rain, the smile on Ray Guay’s face was instantly recognizable.
Guay’s Chazy Flyers girls’ hockey team, consisting of 14 area athletes ages 16 to 19 from Beekmantown, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, celebrated its USA Hockey Tier II 19U National Championship Friday evening with a parade along Route 9 in Chazy.
The 14 players — Kiley Regan, Kallie Villemaire, Amanda Peterson, Alexis Guay, Clara Giroux, Christina Emery, McKayla Duffy, Jess Huber, Sydney Battistoni, Brooke Reid, Jordynne McDougal, Ashley Terry, Lauren O’Connor and Emily Raville — were welcomed home with a ceremony held at the Weathercock Tavern.
“Getting to the national level is just an honor to be there, for one thing. But to actually win nationals is above and beyond what I expected as a coach,” Guay said. “I’ve coached hockey for a number of years, but by far, this has been the most rewarding tournament that I’ve ever been involved with.”
A large number of community members came out to support their hometown team Friday.
“We’re a small community, and we’re a very hearty community,” Guay said. “That just goes to show that, for such a small town, the support just to help us get there was an enormous feat. The community support has been tremendous.”
Villemaire, a sophomore at Beekmantown, registered a goal in double overtime, helping Chazy defeat the Keweenaw (Mich.) Storm for the national title Sunday in San Jose, Calif.
Villemaire said all she and her teammates felt was total elation.
“It was amazing,” Villemaire said. “All I remember seeing is the puck hit the back of the net and everybody coming and jumping on me. It was the best moment of my life. This feat shows that we have a lot of heart and that if we put our mind to do something, we can do anything.”
During pool play, the Flyers suffered their only loss, a 6-2 decision to the Storm on April 5.
Guay said overcoming adversity played an important role in the team’s turnaround from the earlier setback.
“It’s mind over matter, and these girls going into the championship game knew that they were up against it,” Guay said. “I think that particular game that we had lost was just the building block to the championship game. It came from the heart, and it paid off.”
Keweenaw outshot Chazy 30-18 in the contest. Emery saved 28-of-30 shots in nearly 65 minutes of playing time in net.
“The overtime was interesting,” Emery said. “It was definitely a killer just standing there. When you’re in goal, you only get a few moments of action sometimes. When the action came, it definitely came. It was heart-stopping.”
Emery said winning a national championship crossed the players’ minds, but going into the game, they thought finishing in second would have been an accomplishment in itself.
“Anything can happen,” Emery said. “We have a lot of heart. There are only 14 of us, so we have to have heart. We don’t have a choice. It was pretty cool.
“The support is overwhelming. I mean, our town has always been there for us, but to see everybody who’s really supported us the whole time, it’s heartwarming.”
The team was joined by area athletes Cailee LaPorte and Amy LoTemplio of the Vermont Shamrocks, who claimed the Tier II 16U championship in San Jose.
“This is really exciting, and I’m happy that both of our teams could win,” LoTemplio said. “It’s kind of hard to believe that it actually happened. I was really happy that Chazy invited me and (LaPorte) to come, too.”
Chazy’s home ice is Scotts’ Memorial Rink on Macadam Road in Chazy.
Winning the national championship capped off a memorable season for girls’ ice hockey in the North Country. Not only did the Flyers win their first national championship, but Guay’s Beekmantown team also won its first state title with a 3-0 win over Potsdam Feb. 10. Some of the Flyers were members of that team, too.
The Flyers competed in the national tournament in Texas last year.
“In the back of my mind, I knew that going through the state level was definitely an option,” Guay said of the Flyers. “But getting to the national level just super exceeded the expectations that I had. But after last year’s Texas trip, I knew that I had something, and I just went for it.
“I started the girls program about 11 years ago. These girls have been with me all along. This is my senior group. These guys are family. We went out with a bang.”