Story by Sara Paul
It was the New York State (NYS) Ice Hockey Championships in Buffalo, NY and two sisters on two teams who had never won a State game were faced with some fierce opposition.
Triumphantly, 16-year-old Gwenyth (Gwen) Haesche, a defenseman, won the NYS Ladies Hockey Championship game, securing her and her team a spot in the National Championship.
Though 15-year-old Grace’s team did not win, due to their stellar record, the team was awarded a USA Hockey bid.
Both teams finished in the top ten in the country and both sisters would be heading to the USA Ice Hockey Championship in Marlborough, MA.
Battling such rival states as Michigan, Colorado and the Dakotas, Grace’s team finished fifth in the country, with Gwen’s team in eighth place out of about 20 others.
High honor roll students at Warwick Valley High School, Grace Elizabeth and Gwenyth Rose have been playing hockey since they were toddlers.
Born in Manhattan, the sisters moved with their family to Warwick when they were three and four years old. Country life provided the perfect backdrop for their dad to start teaching them the sport that he and his brothers excelled in. Practicing both on and off the ice, on ponds, driveways and at Skylands Rink, to name a few beginning spots, the girls grew to love the sport.
Always on the same team until just this year and playing on co-ed teams until recently, the Haesche girls dealt with their share of confrontation from male players.
“Boys didn’t like if we were better than them,” said Gwen, who emphasized that the gentlemen on her team “always embraced us.”
With keen, watchful eyes, hockey mom Jennifer Haesche remembers when the young lads “saw a girl goalie and thought it was easy pickin’s. They soon found out they were wrong.”
Never discouraged by criticism or intimidation, the teens are proud to be ice hockey champs.
“Players depend on a good, solid defensive player and I like being that person,” said Gwenyth, who is also a soprano in her school’s choir.
Grace, forever the fiery goalie, feels similarly, noting that, “There’s a lot of pressure because I’m the last line of defense if anything goes wrong.”
Grace also plays the trumpet, recently marching in her school’s band at the Village’s Memorial Day Parade. Both gals dabble in lacrosse as well.
Beyond the fast-paced, quite physical, contact sport, which can include some rough and tough combative moments, Gwenyth and Grace have conversely found their sister bond to be stronger and have also forged sisterly friendships with all of their teammates.
“They are all my best friends and I talk to them all every single day. We are family,” said Gwenyth, explaining that she and her sisters’ teammates do not live locally.
With the team’s home base is in Brewster, NY, the Lady Bulldogs spend a considerable amount of time on the road.
Three hour round trip practices three times a week, as well as games out of state in places like Vermont, Pennsylvania and Delaware, find long car rides just a matter of course for the sisters and also for their devoted chauffeur.
Mom does not think twice about the mileage, but rather reflects on the fondest memories and quality family time spent on the road.
“They’re sometimes doing homework in the back of the car with flashlights and having dinner on the go, but these are coveted moments. We talk, we belt out show tunes, and, most importantly, I know where my kids are,” said Jennifer, admitting that the pursuit of such an aggressive sport was “a bit shocking. I mean I thought I’d be going to ballet.”
Reflecting on her own challenges as a mother, she simply and humbly feels, “It’s just important that I listen and that we talk a lot about the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
The proud hockey mom admits that sometimes the whole family does cringe, even with protective gear and over protective teammates. They have had their share of injuries. Grace is regularly struck in the head by hockey pucks and in the neck with hockey sticks and Gwen suffered a torn ligament, rendering the passionate player unable to play her favorite sport for an emotionally and physically painful five weeks on the bench.
“I never realized how much I truly loved hockey until I could not play. I was so happy to get back that I was bawling in tears,” she said, showing off a photo of a sign her teammates had crafted for their wounded comrade.
“These amazing girls are all teammates who win as a team and lose as a team. There is no arrogance; there are no egos. Their sportsmanship is extraordinary and it is pretty cool to watch these kids who realize that sportsmanship is just as much a part of the game as winning or losing,” Jennifer noted with pride. “It’s so great to see how girls’ hockey has grown and these individuals are really pioneers for future generations.”
The future does hold exciting icy twists and turns for Gwenyth and Grace, as prestigious preparatory high schools eye them for admission and both are looking forward to attending colleges with ice hockey as part of the athletics program.
Now that the August to April season is finally at a close, these hard-working heroines happily relax with their pups, Waylon and Winner. Their bright eyes sparkle as they ponder the idea of inspiring young people.
Gwenyth thinks hard and realizes, “It’s hard to find your passion. We were lucky to experience our sport at a young age and love it. Just keep looking for what you love, and when you find it, put in as much work as you can.”
“Find something you love that you can put passion in to succeed,” Grace urges.
The Warwick Valley Dispatch would like to feature young people of Warwick who are doing meaningful things. Whether in school, athletics, in the community or at home, we know there are many moving stories that need to be told. These “hero” stories can be from the incredible to the mundane, from the kid who saved his dog from drowning to the teen who takes care of a sibling with special needs.
We ask that if you know of any young individuals who would be appropriate for these human interest pieces, that you contact Sara Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.