BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Kenmore/Grand Island/Lockport girls hockey team is having a memorable season, repeating as Section VI champions and returning to this weekend’s state regionals.
Along with the championship trophies, the Ken/GI/Port girls will soon display a memento from a proud moment earlier this year — an autographed jersey that Buffalo Sabres forward Jeff Skinner wore on Youth Hockey Day last month at KeyBank Center.
Skinner was one of two Sabres who showcased Western New York Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Federation programs with his pregame outfit choice.
“For him to look at all the jerseys there and pick ours really means a ton to us,” said Carolyn Bourgeault, a Kenmore West senior and top goaltender in the WNYGVIHF who will continue her career at Concordia University in Wisconsin. “It was awesome for us to see, and for it to be Jeff Skinner, a veteran and a big name, it was just really cool.”
“The girls loved it,” said Jeff Orlowski, a Kenmore East teacher who has coached the combined team to seven sectional titles in 13 seasons. “It was blowing up. The girls were all tweeting it and everything.”
Skinner recorded a video message for the team from the Sabres’ road trip out West: “Hey girls, just wanted to say thanks for letting me borrow your jersey. And I see you’ve got a couple big games coming up, so good luck, and have fun.”
This was the second year that Sabres players represented local high schools when arriving on Youth Hockey Day, and the first in which girls jerseys were part of the selection. Matthew Torres, the Sabres youth hockey coordinator reached out to Bill Pavone, a longtime WNYGVIHF supporter and administrator, to borrow a selection of girls team jerseys large enough for professional hockey players to wear.
Pavone suggested that JJ Peterka, the Sabres rookie forward from Germany, sport the Clarence/Amherst/Sweet Home jersey in his home nation’s colors. C/A/SH coach Nicola Adimey is from Schifferstadt, Germany.
Skinner picked the Ken/GI/Port jersey on his own.
“It was really cool of Jeff to do that,” said Orlowski, surmising that Skinner “doesn’t know what he did there for girls hockey. He really helped us. All the Sabres who wear those high school jerseys really make those kids (proud). They look up to those guys, and for them to do that is really an honor for the girls.”
Pavone said seeing two Sabres wearing WNYGVIHF jerseys was validating for those who pushed to launch the league and nurtured its growth over the past 13 years.
“It meant a lot to our team,” said Pavone, a Kenmore resident whose daughter participated in the inaugural season. “And it meant a lot to everybody in our league. We’ve always just wanted to get our equal share. It’s been a long haul, but we are getting there. And the Sabres wearing our jerseys this year was another step toward that.”
WNY boys teams also have shown their pride in being represented by the Sabres on Youth Hockey Day. The Williamsville South Billies, whose jersey was worn by Rasmus Dahlin, and the Williamsville East Flames, showcased by Dylan Cozens, had t-shirts printed in their team colors with the name and number of the Sabres players on the back.
In pursuit of its first state title, the Ken/GI/Port girls face off with Clinton from Section III at 8 p.m. Friday in the semifinals at the Nexus Center in Utica. The state championship game is at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.