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Jaywalking: Real deal

A Montreal Candiens fan, Deerfield's Mae Emerson's national-championship Under-14 wore a uniform that looks a lot like the Habs'.
Submitted photo

A Montreal Candiens fan, Deerfield's Mae Emerson's national-championship Under-14 wore a uniform that looks a lot like the Habs'. Submitted photo

It has been about a month since Deerfield’s Mae Emerson won the Under-14 Tier II Girls’ Hockey National Championship with her Assabet Valley hockey team, and her team’s national-champion status still hasn’t totally set in.

“It feels a little weird,” she said of being the best Under-14 Tier II team in the country.

Regardless of how it feels, Emerson, who’s given name is actually Elizabeth, is exactly that after Assabet Valley went to the National Championships in Amherst, N.Y., during the first week of April.

I only found out about the 13-year-old Emerson when fellow Recorder columnist Chip Ainsworth brought her name up one day as we chatted in the office. He had spoken to Jim Antone, the retired zamboni driver at Deerfield Academy who worked in maintenance at the school for more than 30 years.

“Antone’s seen her practice and says, ‘She can rip the cover off the puck,’” Ainsworth said.

With that, I set off to find out about Emerson, not exactly knowing just how big a deal this national championship really was. The problem with some national championships for youngsters is that they are not exactly “true” national championships. You tend to get teams participating that are only from this or that region.

What I discovered is that Emerson is the real deal and so was her team’s national-championship victory, so I paid the teenager and her family a call to learn more about this promising young player.

Emerson is the daughter of Toby and Dana Emerson. Toby is originally from Brattleboro, Dana’s from Andover. Mae Emerson was born when the family still lived in Wallingford, Conn., and the parents worked at Choate Rosemary Hall. She moved to Deerfield along with the family when she was 1 and both of her parents work at Deerfield Academy, where her father coaches the junior varsity hockey team.

It’s on the DA ice where Emerson fell in love with the sport of hockey. She began skating at age 3, her jersey number. She said she would go out and skate with her father’s team. She was able to hone her skills as she passed time during her father’s practices, and it ignited her to becoming a dominant force in girls’ hockey.

“She can pick up anything and do it well,” Dana Emerson said.

A Bement School eighth-grader, Emerson is built like a hockey player, standing at 5-feet-8 and weighing a solid 150 pounds. Asked why I had not heard about the center/winger prior to my conversation with Ainsworth, Dana Emerson said the family has been somewhat quiet about the whole thing.

“We’re not big promoters,” she said, sounding nothing like many of the parents of today. “We believe that if you put your head down and work hard, you’ll find success.”

Prior to joining the Assabet Valley team, Emerson had been playing for a club out of Enfield, Conn., but the level of competition just got to be too weak for Emerson.

“She was scoring five goals a game,” Dana Emerson said.

Emerson continued to skate along with the Deerfield Academy hockey team during practices and at one point she was told that as a seventh-grader she could legitimately skate on the third line of the DA varsity team. And we’re talking about a DA team that has had its fair share of Olympians.

Eventually Emerson tried out for the Concord-based Assabet Valley team, the top girls’ hockey team in New England, attracting players from New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and other New England states. The program is so prestigious that players must get a tryout invitation.

Emerson played this season with the Under-14, Tier II team, which means family weekend trips to Concord. The way it works is that many of the players born in 1999 played for the Tier I team, while those born in 2000 play for Tier II. Emerson, being 13, made the Tier II squad, although she is likely to play for the Tier I team next season. In fact, she spent the past weekend at tryouts for the Tier I team and there will be more tryouts before she learns her fate in August.

Back to USA National Under-14 Tier II Tournament, which featured 12 teams from all over the country, including teams from Colorado, Alaska, Florida, Michigan, Illinois and New Jersey. Assabet went 1-2 in its three early-round games, picking up a 4-1 win over a team from Connecticut, and losing 1-0 to Alaska and 6-1 to Pittsburgh, Pa. According to an article on USA Hockey’s website, Assabet Valley coach Dante DeMarco said, despite the record in the opening games, he felt like his team was in good shape.

“The coaches believed in the kids. The kids believed in themselves,” he said in the article. “Pool play — tough break against Alaska, losing 1-0. We outshot them. Same thing with Pittsburgh. We outshot them. We dominate the game, but we lose 6-1. It’s kind of a fluke. The kids came out, pulled it together and did what they needed to do.”

Assabet moved to the playoff rounds and opened up with a 5-1 victory over Cape Cod in the quarterfinals, including an Emerson goal. That sent the club to the semifinals, where it extracted revenge on Alaska to the tune of a 6-0 victory with Emerson potting a pair of goals. Then, in the finals against New Jersey Titans, Emerson scored the first and last goal in what turned out to be a 5-1 victory, giving the team the national title.

“It was very fun,” Emerson said of scoring on the biggest of stages. “The first goal in the national-championship game was 1 minute, 45 seconds into the game. It got me and my team a lot more excited, got us going and we put a lot more into the net.”

So what is next for Emerson? Well, she hopes to make the Under-14, Tier I club and lead that team to a national title as well. But there are even bigger things in her future.

“I would love to play in the Olympics,” she said. “That’s one of my goals.”

She has some experience with Olympians already. Julie Chu, a four-time Olympian who was part of Team USA’s silver-medal team this past Olympics, was one of Emerson’s former babysitters, as was former U.S. Olympic hockey player Angela Ruggiero, both of whom graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall.

Who knows? Maybe during the 2022 Winter Games, Franklin County’s very own Mae Emerson will be ripping the cover off of pucks for Team USA.

And if you were wondering who Emerson is rooting for during the NHL playoffs, it may make your head spin.

“I’m actually a Canadiens fan,” she said, as I reminded her that she was talking to someone who was wearing a Boston Bruins T-shirt during our phone conversation. “One of my dad’s old students was Mathieu Darche. He was a student of my dad’s at Choate and he lived in a dorm I lived in. My family was pretty close to him.”

A good enough reason to root for the hated Habs, I guess. How could I, a New York Giants fan living in Patriots country because it was the team my father rooted for, argue with that reasoning? Darche was a former Montreal player who played for 10 seasons in the NHL before retiring after the 2011-12 season. He played for five NHL teams, and was on the 2010-11 Montreal team that lost in the playoffs to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Bruins.

Emerson said that she mentioned that she was rooting for the Canadiens at her lunch table last week, which drew plenty of looks, including one from her teacher, who is a big Bruins fan.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.

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