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NA Stars Face 1st Opponent and Tour Around Prague

April 21, 2011

The North American Stars faced their first opponent – the Czech Selects – in the World Selects Invitational in Prague, Czech Republic on Thursday, April 21.  Although the team fought doggedly, the fast-paced, physical play wound up in a 4-0 loss for the Stars. “It was tough,” said Ronnie Callahan of South Windsor, Connecticut.  “They really came out hard and we didn’t know what to do.”  After the rocky start, she felt the team settled and played better.  As far as the competition, the consensus was that the Czech team was a more formidable rival than the 15 and under German girls the team had faced in their “friendly game” earlier in the week (a 7-2 loss).  “It was like playing Assabet but they were better,” said Callahan.  The Assabet Valley girls 12 and under team (from Massachusetts) won the United States national championships held in Detroit, Michigan earlier this month.  

“They were really good at passing the puck,” said Charlie Pederson of Tyrone, Ontario, who drew the first Czech penalty after a nice rush.  “They were more physical than I am used to.”  She also described being cross checked by a Czech player and, in turn, having to make her own physical presence felt. 

The Stars had some scoring chances before the Czech team struck on a short-handed goal at 13:40 of the first of two twenty-minute sessions.  The Stars trailed 3-0 going into the second, before the Czech team notched another shorthanded goal at the 10:01  point  of the second.  Coach Bernie Cassell made note of areas to work on as the tournament progresses.   “I felt that after the first period we weren’t utilizing our speed.  They were quick but I thought that we were faster,”  he said. He also thought that, while the effort was there, there was still “a little confusion” on the system.”  As a result, he said that, going forward, he would “try to keep it as basic as possible,” without fixed lanes (i.e., left wing, right wing or center) but having “forward 1, forward 2 and forward 3.”  He stressed the importance of maintaining a consistent message with opponents.  “I want to stay on the same game plan and keep our identity the same – a hard working, blue collar team that whacks in the rebounds and gets in on the forecheck.”

Overall, however, Cassell said he was pleased with the make-up of his team.  “I am proud of them, how well they work together and how they listen and apply things.  They’re a pleasure to work with,” said Cassell.

Post-Game.  After the game, the team enjoyed a quick lunch before embarking on a three-hour guided walking tour of Prague.  The team was lucky enough to view the changing of the guard at the gates of the Prague Castle.  The girls also took in the beauty of St. Vitus cathedral, stood in the square that President Obama once gave an address, ambled around the Old Town Square, shopped along the Charles Bridge and snapped photos at the breathtaking views from above the city.  The tour guide also explained the Czech peoples’ Eastern traditions to the girls.   “It was fun…looking at the buildings and walking around,” said forward Alyson Morris of Trenton, Ontario.

Observations.  At least one parent (or grandparent) liked what he saw.  Rejean Rodier, the grandfather of Stars’ forward Valerie Rodier thought that, given time, the team could get even with the Czech team.  “With one to two months with Bernie, we’d be equal [to the Czech team],” he said (through this writer’s French translation).    

Opening Ceremonies.  Opening ceremonies were held Thursday night for all participating in the World Selects Invitational.  All the teams were introduced separately, after which videos representing the “best of” players and historic hockey situations from each participating country were shown (such as, for the United States, the “Miracle on Ice.”).  Travis Howe, the grandson of the legendary Gordie Howe (and President of Selects Hockey) gave an opening address.  He stated that the roster of teams participating at this year’s event represented the “strongest field ever assembled” for the event.  He added that assembling players and families from all over the world and “bringing countries together” is what makes hockey such a special sport.  The international flavor of the event is evidenced by the representation from a host of countries such as the Czech Republic, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Italy and the United States.

Basic Messages.  Trailing 3-0 after one period did not deter coach Cassell from imparting a very basic message to his team:  “At the end of the first period I told them we are here to work hard, play hard and have fun.  I told them not to be nervous and to enjoy it.”  

Other Notes. Goalie Brooke Susac held her own during the game, including a nice stop on a Czech breakaway at 17:28 in the second.  


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