Fulton County is not known as a hotbed of hockey talent.
However, a Johnstown family has taken the sport to its highest level.
Sydney and Grace Parker, along with their father and coach, Mickey Parker, are members of the Syracuse Nationals 14-and-under girls hockey team that recently defeated the Buffalo Bisons 1-0 to win the New York State Tier One championship.
From left, Dennis First, Alli First, Grace Parker, Mickey Parker and Sydney Parker pose for a photo after the Syracuse Nationals 14U girls hockey team won the state Tier I?championship. (Photo submitted)
"I am happy we beat Buffalo, they don't really lose a lot," Grace said. "It seemed like a long time at the end of the game with the score 1-0."
After losing 5-1 to the Bison in the first game of the state tourney, the Nationals rallied to set up a rematch by defeating Westchester (3-2) and Rochester (1-0). The Bison went undefeated beating Rochester (6-0) and Westchester (8-0).
However, it was the Nationals avenging the opening-round loss, making defensman's Emily Rose's second-period goal standup for the 1-0 upset and a national tournament berth.
The Nationals will now represent New York State at the USA Hockey National Championships in San Jose, CA from April 3-7.
The Nationals are joined in the championship field by the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, the New Jersey Colonials, Detroit Honeybaked, the Chicago Young Americans, the Mid Fairfield Stars, the East Coach Wizards, the Dallas Stars Elite, the Anaheim Lady Ducks, the Washington Pride, the Middlesex Islanders and the host San Jose Sharks.
"What happens is every state has a championship and the state champions are ranked by hockey powers," Nationals coach Mickey Parker said. "New York does not have to go to regional play because New York gets an automatic bid due to the quality and amount of teams in the state. Mass is a big hockey state also and their champion also gets an automatic bid."
Coach Parker said New York has four Tier One teams - Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and Westchester - but interest in the sport is growing.
"Girls hockey is one of the fastest growing sports in the country," coach Parker said. "It is growing real fast in other parts of the country but in Fulton County we don't have a rink. It is growing very quickly and is the fast growing part of youth hockey."
Coach Parker grew up in Gloversville and played hockey in the Schenectady Youth leagues. He attended and played hockey at Albany Academy and SUNY Brockport.
His daughters' careers have mirrored his so far.
"The girls have been skating since they were four and started playing ice hockey at Schenectady," coach Parker said. "But they did not have a girls program, so we went to Clifton Park. Then the girls outgrew the local program because the teams around here are Tier Two. They were good enough to try out for and play for the Tier One program in Syracuse; that is the closest one. Tier One takes a much larger area, while Tier Two is a small local type in a 20- to 30-mile radius. It is a two hour drive twice a week for practice but it is worth it because you are playing the best hockey teams in the United States and Canada. That is how you get better."
Playing on a top-level team also means a lot of travel.
"It is fun because of the level of the teams we play," coach Parker said. "We played 70 games this year and the majority were against the top 20 teams in the country. We played all the best teams in Canada, as far away as Calgary. We played coast-to-coast. We played Boston and then went to play the Anaheim Lady Ducks and went as far south as Washington to play the to Washington Pride."
Sydney is a defenseman for the Nationals, while Grace has produced 27 goals as a forward on the team.
"I am very excited we won," Sydney said. "As a defenseman we have to guard the goal. We don't have as much contact as the boys do, but we do mix it up."
Grace said a forward has to be able to skate from end-to-end with speed, but she likes "mixing it up in front of the net."
Their skills on the ice also have become useful for Sydney and Grace in their second-sport, lacrosse.
Sydney plays midfield for the Bears, while Grace is a defensive back.
Sydney offered advice to any young athletes playing sports, "It is a lot of hard work and you can't really be good at it unless you are willing to put the work and time into it."
Grace and Sydney are in the seventh and eighth grade, respectively, at Albany Academy for Girls.