SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 27, 2012

Kick Saves: 'Tis the season for hockey related gift giving

Kick Saves
Matt Williams

---- — Answer: A Detroit Red Wings Jimmy Howard practice jersey.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what that could possibly have to with local girls hockey. That’s mostly because we haven’t yet arrived at the question: What is your all-time favorite or most memorable hockey related holiday gift?

For me, it was that No. 35 sweater. This was four years ago, before Howard was a household name among fantasy hockey and goaltending gurus and it came from my college roommate. We attended the University of Maine together, at the same time Howard was the goaltender for the Black Bears.

While setting a few NCAA records and playing the position as well as anyone I’ve ever seen up close, Howard became my favorite player and my roommate and I tracked his progress through the minors and up to Detroit, where he plays today.

Thinking about that awesome gift made me wonder what other hockey related Christmas gifts were out there. So, I posed that question to a number of local girls hockey folks and got some outstanding responses.

Let’s begin with Marblehead coach Emily Hudak, who had an excellent playing career at Cushing Academy and Ohio State University. She graduated from Cushing in 1999, when girls hockey wasn’t a big sport for public schools, and her favorite gift was her first hockey stick.

“I always wanted to play hockey like my older brother Erik (an MHS assistant coach). My mom told me girls don’t play hockey but after years of begging my dad finally gave the OK for me to play,” she recalled. “When I was 10 I got my first fluorescent green Sherwood hockey stick. I loved it.”

The only trouble for Hudak was that though she was a righty in every other sport, she had a left-hand shot in hockey.

“I had a mean backhand,” she said. “My parents eventually got me the correct curved stick and the rest was history.”

Sticks are a popular Christmas gift for the hockey player in your life, and its easy to see why with the variety and cost of today’s composites. Beverly goalie Ami Thompson highlighted her first non-wooden stick as a personal favorite.

“I would say my first composite stick,” said Thompson. “I was a wood/composite mix at the time and I was told I wouldn’t be getting a new one so that the gift would be a surprise.”

Sticks can spark scorers and for Marblehead junior captain Rachel Mckay, a new stick was just what the doctor ordered for the holidays.

“I got a red Bauer Total One last year. I was in a killer slump and I really needed to change things up,” she said. “I don’t get superstitious about things, but that new Bauer stick just felt right and I ended up as my team’s high scorer thanks to that stick.

“I know its not just the stick, but I’m really hoping that it rises to the occasion again this season.”

Firsts were definitely a big theme for hockey holiday gifts. Masconomet goalie Alex Jones highlighted her first goalie helmet, which she got when she was 10 and wore for the first few seasons of her Chieftains career.

“It was my first new helmet,” she said. “I used to show it off to everyone and I was so protective of who I would let carry it around because I didn’t want anything to happen to it.”

Another first of sorts came from former Marblehead goalie Moe Bradley, who is now playing for the University of New Hampshire. She spent a year playing club hockey before college, and also helped out her old high school team in her spare time.

“Emily Hudak gave me my own whistle with my initials engraved on it,” Bradley said. “That was awesome.”

Pingree’s Jillian Witwicki got her first pair of skates from her parents when she was just three years old. Like most toddlers, she wanted to try out her new gift right away and a tradition was born.

“I was so eager to get outside and play that we didn’t open any more presents and the whole Witwicki family headed to our outdoor rink to play. From that day on we have a family pond hockey game every Christmas morning,” said Witwicki, who lives in Danvers.

Family was a big factor for Beverly senior Livvy Konaxis, who comes from a long line of Beverly High hockey players.

“We played pond hockey in our neighborhood on Christmas Day,” said Konaxis. “I had never played on a team with my older sister Rachel because I was too young and had never played with my brother Jake, so to play with them was a great gift and very memorable.”

Easily the most unique gift story came from Beverly junior Nicole Woods, whose family lived in Montreal for part of her life.

“When I was seven, my dad worked at the airport and became friends with most of the Canadiens players as they passed through customs. We got a Christmas card of Sheldn Souray’s family,” Woods recalled. “Also, that year Santa brought us six weeks worth of Saturday night Canadiens tickets.”

I don’t know if its the frosty temperature, the joy of the season or some combination of both, but whatever the reason hockey and the holidays fit together perfectly. Here’s hoping there was something memorable — and hockey related — under your tree earlier this week.

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There aren’t many girls hockey games over the holiday break. Masconomet (2-0) is playing Gardner on Saturday coming off a 10-day break that was extended because a game had to be rescheduled. Red hot Beverly (4-0, outscoring opponents 34-3) is finished until 2013, when they face Wintrop on Jan 2.

Marblehead (3-1) will visit Masco is a marquee local match-up on New Year’s Eve. The puck drops at noon up at Gloucester’s Talbot Rink and it should be a great take before the end of 2012 festivities begin.

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Kick Saves, a column on North Shore girls hockey, appears in The Salem News every other Thursday. Contact assistant sports editor Matt Williams at MWilliams@salemnews.com, 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @Matt Williams_SN.