By spring break, Evans High School might be home to a hockey national champion.
Jennifer Maier, a 16-year-old sophomore at the school, is in Amherst, N.Y., today through Sunday competing with the Lady Vipers U19 girls hockey team in the 2014 USA Hockey Nationals. The Lady Vipers earned the spot after winning the 2014 Southeastern District on March 1.
Maier, the Lady Vipers’ center, was excited the team’s season was continuing. She played a key role in making that happen.
“It was a shocker to me; we were not expecting this, we were not favored at all,” said Maier, adding that she scored the tying goal that sent the championship game into overtime, which they eventually won in triple overtime. That was on top of their first game they had to win in overtime.
Her father, George Maier, cited the historical aspect of her journey.
“Jennifer is the only girl out of Augusta to go this far in hockey to play in the nationals,” he said. “She’s the first and only to play at a national championship level.”
The journey to New York is nothing new for Maier, who has been traveling every other weekend during the season to play center for the Lady Vipers, based out of Kissimmee, Fla. Maier, who hopes to play college hockey and has Olympic aspirations, played locally on the 16U boys midget team last year but knew she had to make a change.
“I started with the basic skating, and then I learned to play in clinics and I moved my way up to playing with the boys for about three or four years,” Maier said. “This year I made the decision to go play down in Florida with the girls for college (preparation). I knew I needed to get to a girls program sooner or later, so that’s how I ended up down there.”
She averages nine to 13 hours a week training at the Augusta Ice Sports Center, where she also works to help pay for ice time.
“I come here right after school, and I have the whole rink to myself, and it’s just relaxing, and I have a great time,” said Maier. “I love being able to compete. It’s a lot of fun.”
On a rainy Friday, Maier shares the ice with Trevor Gilles, a former Augusta Lynx who went on to play with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League. Gilles was in town visiting his family at the end of rehabilitating a broken hand while playing for the Abbotsford Heat, the Calgary Flames’ Triple-A team in the American Hockey League. They worked out together during the summer and on this day Gilles pushes Maier through drills.
“I’ve worked a bunch with Jen in the summer; she’s a really hard-working, very disciplined young athlete,” Gilles said. “She’s here bright and early, like 6 a.m. when I come out with her. It’s pretty awesome to see, someone that’s that young, that focused. It’s actually nice for me (today) because I’ve got someone who’s actually passing me the puck and I can run drills. It’s a lot better when you have a couple of people on the ice instead of just one.”
Maier moved to the area in 2006 and lived across the street from then-Augusta Lynx coach Bob Ferguson. In addition to working out with Gilles, she trained with former Augusta Riverhawk Curtis Megginson from June to November.
“It’s so cool because you see them on TV, but to be able to come out here and play with them is like, ‘Oh my gosh!’” Maier said. “To be able to learn these drills is like, ‘Oh my gosh am I really doing this.’ Not many people can say they’ve done this and been able to work with someone so good.”
With training and games in Florida on Sunday, keeping her 4.0 grade-point average isn’t easy.
“I have anywhere from five to eight hours of homework a night so sleep gets sacrificed,” said Maier. “I get only four or five hours a night on average. I have to get homework done Friday night when I have weekend homework. If it’s not done Friday I have to make sure I’m working on it on the car ride down.”
She appreciates it that her whole family, including her mother and younger sister Sarah, makes the trips with her. Trips might be heading north instead of south in the near future.
“Next season in the fall she has an opportunity to play with a good coach in Boston but we haven’t signed any commitments yet,” George Maier said.
Maier aspires to play collegiate hockey.
“Any DI or Ivy League,” Maier said. “I’m really interested in Cornell and Ohio State or anywhere I can get meteorology, too, because I want to be a meteorologist. So, anywhere I get to play hockey and study meteorology.”