BUFFALO - For the 20 players on the Long Island scholastic women's ice hockey team, winning a gold medal at the Empire State Games is an enormous accomplishment.
Considering the obstacles Long Island faces compared with the other regions - shortage of facilities, lack of practice time, etc. - it's perfectly understandable if they develop a little swagger in their step after a win.
But winning isn't the only joy they get. Building on what is fast becoming a tradition for Long Island women's hockey is equally as important as the medal.
The Long Island women won gold in 2006, silver in 2007 and gold for the second time in 2008. There were no games in 2009.
"We want to defend our title," Cold Spring Harbor's Eleanor Haines said. "We have a target on our backs and we don't want to let up . . . To anyone."
Long Island coach Frank Drisco recalled the days when he barely had enough players to fill out a roster.
"The Long Island team wasn't really strong the first 10 years," Drisco said. "But the last four years, we have really put ourselves on the map. After we won the gold the first time in 2006, more girls showed up the next year for tryouts."
Tryouts for the women's hockey team 10 years ago would max out at about 25. That number has increased to 40 in recent years.
"We could take two teams up now," Drisco said. "We actually have to cut players now."
Haines is about the direction of the sport.
"We definitely want to keep it growing. And it really has been growing the last few years," Haines said. "The winning will help us get more girls to the tryouts."
Long Island (2-0-1) has made its presence felt the first two days of the games.
The team's path to the gold started Thursday with a 5-1 win over New York City. L.I. followed that up with a 3-1 win over Hudson Valley and a 1-1 tie against Adirondack on Friday.
Although the tie against Adirondack was a bit deflating, Haines, who scored L.I.'s goal off a feed from Alyssa Rivera, is convinced her team still has what it takes to succeed.
"If we continue to work, we still have a chance to win the gold," said Haines, who also scored in the win against New York City. "Western will be our toughest game, but things will work out if we keep at it."
Men's hockey can medal
Long Island's 6-2 win over Adirondack indicates it was a blowout.
In truth, L.I. won thanks to its attention to the simple things, such as power-play situations. L.I. scored three power-play goals in the win.
"It changed the game," Tommy Telesca said of L.I.'s success on the power play. "We really practiced the five-on-threes and it paid off."
Telesca and Thomas Condon each had a goal and an assist. James Mazza, Brendan McGovern, Frank DiChiara and Vincent Monfredo also scored in the win, which kept L.I. (1-1) in gold medal contention.
"We have to win the rest of our games to win gold," L.I. coach Ken Hoey said. "But we are in good shape to get a medal."
Long Island squares off against Hudson Valley at 7 a.m. and New York City later Saturday night.