NEWARK – The biggest obstacle between Morristown Beard and a third straight state girls ice hockey title may have been a 3/16-inch-thick bit of metal.
Crimson senior goaltender Gracie Meyers’ skate blade “exploded” as she walked from the locker room to the Prudential Center ice on Monday afternoon, according to coach Bruce Driver. It popped out of its fastenings, and he couldn’t get it back in.
Driver, who won the 1995 Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils, texted for reinforcements. The Devils’ and Toronto Maple Leafs’ equipment staff rushed to fix Meyers’ skate in time for the second period.
By then, freshman goaltender Hannah Mortazavi had stopped nine Pingry shots and Morristown Beard was on its way to a 2-1 win.
The Crimson are the only girls state hockey champion.
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Mortazavi “started getting a little scared” when she didn’t see Meyers warming up. While Meyers was standing with her teammates for the national anthem, Driver was debating who should start the final.
He chose Mortazavi. Her response? “Oh my God, I have to do this.”
“I was definitely a little nervous, but I knew the team had my back and they would be there to support me no matter what,” said Mortazavi, a Morristown resident who has appeared in eight games this winter.
“It’s amazing. I love this team. It’s definitely different, especially with the crowd, the setting. Everything about it was much different. It was a great experience, so I think I’m ready for the next few years.”
Growing the girls game
Though Morristown Beard (15-6-3) remains the only team to win a New Jersey girls’ title, the number and level of opponents has been growing.
The National Federation of State High School Associations’ first reference to girls hockey is in a 1973-74 participation survey, with 96 players at 26 schools. The first New Jersey team is listed two years later: just one, with 25 players.
That number has ballooned to 8,983 players on 699 girls-only teams in 16 states in the 2021-22 school year. However, girls ice hockey doesn’t crack the top 10 in schools or participants, lagging behind better-established sports such as volleyball, soccer, and swimming.
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New Jersey had 527 players in that NFHS survey, behind only Minnesota (3,232), Massachusetts and Wisconsin. However, according to data going back to the 2002-03 school year, the number of girls teams in New Jersey has grown from six to 18.
Thirteen of them are in the New Jersey Interscholastic Ice Hockey League, which has two divisions – and will be adding a third next winter, according to Driver.
Driver helped found the Morristown Beard program in the 200-01 season, joining Pingry and Princeton High School, as well as independent Lawrenceville, Stuart Country Day and Princeton Day.
“Every single game we played was competitive,” said Driver, who wore only his Stanley Cup ring on Monday – no souvenirs from the girls’ past two titles.
“It seems like things are evening out a little bit. We’re seeing a little more parity within the teams. (I’m) fortunately standing here as champion for the third time.”
More for Morristown Beard?
This was the fourth time Morristown Beard and Pingry have played. The Crimson came out on top in all four, including a comeback win in the Librera Cup final on Feb. 16.
The Big Blue (13-5) wrap up their season with wins in 12 of their last 14 games – with both losses to Morristown Beard.
Senior Lilli Warnock and junior Kailin Kane scored the Crimson’s goals. After the game Warnock held the girls’ championship jersey autographed by the Devils after the game, joking that since it’s her No. 23 – same as the year of the title – she wanted to keep it.
Junior Charlotte Diemar is the first to score on Morristown Beard in a state final, poking home a goal off a scrum in front of the net with 8.6 seconds left. The Crimson had shut out Summit, 3-0, in 2020 and blanked Princeton Day, 7-0, last winter.
Still clutching the NJSIAA trophy to her chest, Gracie Meyers was satisfied with the outcome. In just a couple of hours, she went from being helped through the equipment repairs in a back hallway of the Prudential Center with her father Brad Meyers and Crimson goalie coach Rob Massimi, unable to even watch her teammates on the ice, to another state championship.
“When I got back on the ice and could skate again, it was like something clicked. I knew I was going to play good,” Meyers said. “Our team can play well together. We really like each other. The fact that we’re winning all these titles, we’re so together. We’re just a team, a family.”
Jane Havsy is a sports reports for the Daily Record. Read more of her work here.