With Ladywood’s help, Sacred Heart/Marian hockey team ‘sticks’ together

Gazelles captain Adrianna Rugiero squares up to take a faceoff while Isabella Lorelli guards the net. Both players are among a core of displaced Livonia Ladywood students who took their enthusiasm for ice hockey to Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart, which formed a joint hockey team with nearby Marian High School. (Photos by Wright Wilson)

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — If grit were goals, then the Academy of the Sacred Heart/Marian girls’ hockey team would be Stanley Cup contenders.

Actually, the first-year squad based in Bloomfield Hills was initiated by a core group of girls who transferred to Sacred Heart from Livonia Ladywood, which closed its doors at the conclusion of the 2017-18 school year. While they were free to go anywhere to continue their schooling, they decided to remain together in order to keep the Blazer hockey tradition going — somewhere.

“We definitely wanted to go to a school where they were allowing us to lay down some of our own foundation,” said senior Adrianna Rugiero, the team’s captain. “It was nice to have that, and to have each other, and to continue some of our traditions. We want to pass those on to the freshmen at Sacred Heart.”

While Sacred Heart has had long-term success at the other “stick” sports — field hockey and lacrosse — the Gazelles had never had an ice hockey team before. The squad had to find equipment, a home rink, coaches, and enough girls to fill out a roster.

Adrianna Rugiero leads a rush up the ice in Sacred Heart/Marian’s recent hockey game at Grand Oaks Arena in Howell.

Fortunately for the incoming students, one of their biggest supporters was athletic director Sal Malek, who started the Ladywood program 22 seasons ago.

“He already knew what he was doing, but we had to do a lot of the work ourselves,” said Lily McClafferty, another Ladywood transplant, one of the team’s three assistant captains with Isabella Lorelli and Maelyn Thayer. “We had to advertise, and find equipment for some of the girls. Adriana was emailing everyone all summer long, trying to get everything in order before we could even start working out, so we could see that we had enough girls that were interested and to see that we could be a sport.”

“It was really nice to bring everything together and make it our own team,” Rugiero said. “Mr. Malek was really encouraging; he encouraged us and the whole school, he really made it sound appealing to them. Really, it was more about getting more girls from Sacred Heart to play — we had the interest from Ladywood. They would start the team, but we had to guarantee we’d have the right number of girls to start the program and get the school on board. Once they were on board, we were all set and ready.”

Besides the seven former Blazers, the Gazelles acquired three more girls from the recently folded Marian/Detroit Country Day team, and a couple more Sacred Heart students who are picking up the sport for the first time. The team’s roster numbers a dozen.

“The association with Marian, another Catholic school, has been a blessing for us, and it’s given the girls an opportunity to play ice hockey,” Malek said. “The commitment I’ve seen from our administration has been amazing. Hockey’s a great sport for girls; it brings a lot of great memories. The girls are great, we’ve got a great coach, and they represent the school well.”

The Sacred Heart/Marian girls hockey team gathers together after its Dec. 19 game against Livingston County United.

Going into the Christmas break, the girls had played 10 games. Even though they were winless at that point, they had already met their primary goal of just getting a team on the ice.

“In terms of wins and losses, we’ve had a challenging season so far, but it doesn’t stop them one bit,” coach Joseph Moceri said. “When the game’s over they may be disappointed, but they go on having fun and playing the game. They’re very supportive of one another — from the girls who are just learning to the captains — and they do everything they can to help each other.”

Moceri said it’s evident the girls have made strides — particularly the newcomers.

“In every game you can see progress in their skating and their movement and their handling of the puck,” he said. “They’re learning how to pass the puck better, learning how to receive the passes. Practice by practice, you can see the improvement in how they handle the puck and how they skate. They’re getting more aggressive in defending their positions and they know where to play.”

And that’s important, the team leaders say.

Joseph Moceri guides the Sacred Heart/Marian girls hockey team from the bench. Moceri, a teacher at Troy High School, coached youth travel teams before accepting his current role.

According to McClafferty, the best thing about the team is “seeing the new girls improve, as it’s just showing our efforts to help them get better are paying off. Seeing them improve on the ice every single game has been nice. A lot of us started as freshmen so we know what it’s like, and to see them make those improvements and do the same things have been great.”

In the meantime, being on the first Sacred Heart/Marian team remains fresh and exciting for the players. It might be Year One, but players and coaches are excited for whatever the future holds.

“I really can’t wait ‘til the end of the season to see how much we’ve improved, and then next season when I’m a senior, to have more new players come in and have the new girls from this year be able to teach them things too,” said McClafferty. “It will be really awesome to see.”

Said Moceri, “I’m looking forward to finishing out the season and continuing to grow the program, and be a powerhouse like Ladywood was in years prior.”