Speedy teen's drive earns scholarship

PAUL VANDERHOEVEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

Bree Polci is one of hockey's best kept secrets -- especially in her own home town.

The smooth-skating Londoner was the only female to play midget AAA last season in the Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario. She also was a member of the elite Toronto Junior Aeros of the Provincial Women's Hockey League and a standout forward at the national women's under-18 championship in Napanee.

It's not surprising the 17-year-old Catholic Central student has flown under the radar up to this point, however, since she's played most of her hockey everywhere but London.

Polci split her time last season with the Chatham-Kent midget AAA Cyclones boys' team and the Junior Aeros, playing about 85 games in total.

Her need to compete at the highest possible level has meant plenty of time behind the steering wheel for Polci's parents, Fred and Hedy, but no one's complaining,

"I never regretted a drive," she said. "I just love to play."

The long hours on the road and hard work in practices and games recently were rewarded with a full four-year scholarship to Quinnipiac University, an NCAA Division 1 school in Hamden, Conn., but making the adjustment from the more physical male game to the female game has been a challenge. Before joining the Junior Aeros last season, Polci played exclusively on boys' teams.

Wade Clubb, head coach of the Chatham-Kent Cyclones, said the five-foot-three Polci was usually one of the smallest players on the ice but she was an excellent skater and a fearless competitor.

"She didn't do a lot of checking but she didn't shy away from the corners or from blocking shots," Clubb said. "A lot of the teams we played against didn't realize we had a girl on the team until after the game. She would just fit in that well."

Toronto Junior Aeros coach Darryl Gianncola was amazed by Polci's dedication and commitment as she and her mother Hedy made the trek from London to Toronto and back at least three times a week. He says Polci's time playing with the top-level girls team has allowed her to make major strides in her development as an elite female player.

"Day by day she grew," Gianncola said. "She became more confident as a hockey player."

Gianncola predicts the best is yet to come as Polci refines her skills in the female game.

"By far her biggest strength is her skating without the puck," he said. "She's a fantastic fore-checker and a relentless back-checker.

"A lot of her strengths as a player are off the puck and frankly those are things that are harder to teach."

The speedy Polci, nicknamed the Bullet by her Aeros teammates, says playing for the girls' team forced her to change her game.

"I had to think about goal-scoring; I didn't think to shoot enough," she said, adding her first impulse "would be to pass or make a play - that's just the way the game flowed with the guys.

"There was more time to get the shot off (in the girls' game). That was definitely the biggest thing I had to work on."

Rick Seeley, head coach at Quinnipiac, says Polci has all the skills to be a goal-scorer, she just needs more chances.

"She has a hard shot and she creates opportunities for herself," Seeley said. "I just don't think she's had a lot of practice at that playing with boys."

"What really stands out with Bree when you watch her play is her energy. . . . She really understands the transition game well. She moves the puck well, she just needs to work on her confidence with her scoring."

Tim Bothwell, head coach of the University of Vermont's women's hockey team, also scouted Polci for his school and says she's entering a critical time in her development as a player.

Bothwell, who was an assistant coach with the 2006 gold-medal winning Canadian women's Olympic team, sees "tremendous potential" in Polci, and says playing and practising with elite level female players six days a week in the U.S. college system should give Polci more opportunities to bring her skills up to the women's national team calibre.

"She has a lot of the tools that players at that level need to have," the former NHL player said. "She has enough of the physical skills."


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