By Fran Sypek
The U.S. Under-18 women’s hockey team didn’t have a hard time coming up with a nickname for Sydney Daniels.
They called her, “Syd the Kid.”
It was a natural. After all, Daniels (Southwick, Mass.) was the youngest member of the 2011 gold-medal team at 15.â€¨Daniels — a junior at Westminster School — is a budding U.S. Olympian, destined to play for Uncle Sam’s women’s hockey team in the 2014 Winter Games in Russia. She’s only 16, yet she’s already a seasoned veteran of international competition.
Last January, Daniels and her Team USA teammates captured the gold medal at the Under-18 World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden.
It was a proud moment for her parents, Scott and Lynn Daniels. Scott Daniels is a former Springfield Indians and Falcons AHL player who went on to play in the NHL for the Hartford Whalers, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers before his career was cut short by injuries.
Daniels remained in the Greater Springfield area following his retirement from professional hockey, settling in Agawam before moving to Southwick. He endeared himself to the fans, who watched him grow from a raw project player for Jimmy Roberts’ 1991 Calder Cup championship team into an everyday NHL player.
“It’s so sad his career had to end like it did,” Sydney Daniels said. “He told me what a great time he had playing hockey in Springfield and how supportive the fans were.”
It ended following a concussion from which doctors would not let him come back. Affectionately known as “Chief,” because he is a member of Canada’s Mistawasis First Nation, Daniels returned home to Agawam to raise his family.
Last April, one of Scott Daniels’ old teams, the Springfield Falcons, honored Sydney Daniels at center ice at the MassMutual Center.
It was the same rink in which her father began his professional
career in 1990. The crowd let her know how proud they were of her
and many remembered when Lynn Daniels would bring her toddler
daughter to the arena to watch her father play.
Initially, Scott Daniels didn’t want his daughter to play hockey. No one knew better than he did how rough the game can be and he did not want his daughter playing.â€¨But Sydney Daniels persisted. She wanted to be a hockey player.
Eventually, Scott Daniels relented. Not only did he give his blessing, but he also helped coach her team.
“I wanted to follow in his footsteps and I started when I was 6 playing for Bay West (youth hockey),” she said. “I dragged him to the rink.”
Through a burning passion for the game, good genes and a father
who was able to guide her, Daniels emerged as a special player by
the time she was 12.
Like many skilled girls, she played on boys teams in youth hockey.
“Hockey is such a great team sport and your teammates become your family,” Daniels said.
A junior at Westminster School in Simsbury, Conn., Sydney Daniels also has played for Assabet Valley. Westminster won the New England championship, and it didn’t take long for the national team to notice her.â€¨She earned a spot on the U-18 team as its youngest member, but she was not intimidated.
“The older girls really took me under their wing and showed me the ropes,” Daniels said. “They told me what it was like for them when they were the youngest players on the team.”
The United States will be going for gold in Russia, much as it did in Sweden by beating Team Canada, 5-2, for the world’s top spot.
“It was such an unbelievable experience,” Daniels said. “It was amazing to have the feeling my dad felt when he was a player.”
If Daniels, who plays left wing, does make the Olympic team, she will be the first player from Western Massachusetts to do so since Westfield’s Kacey Bellamy won silver in the Vancouver games.â€¨By then, she will have gone from being a prep school undergraduate to a college player.
“That’s the plan,” said Daniels, who is not close to making her college choice just yet.
After she returned from Sweden, Daniels played in an outdoor hockey game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn.
“That was a great experience, especially when it started to snow,” she said.
She also got to watch her father play on the outdoor rink. Scott Daniels suited up for the Whalers alumni team against the Bruins alumni team.
“He loved being around his old teammates,” Sydney said.
Scott Daniels has remained active in hockey. He’s the associate coach of the Springfield Pics of the Eastern Junior Hockey League.
“Scott knows so much about the game and he’s able to pass that knowledge on to the kids,” Pics coach Patrick Tabb said.
That fact has not been lost on Sydney Daniels, who appreciates the time both Scott and Lynn have put into helping her pursue her dream.
“They drive me to my games and they’ve given me
everything I need,” Daniels said.
She can’t quite pattern her game after Scott’s because women’s hockey is different.
“I try to play like him, but I’m a lot less physical,” she said. “I try to have his work ethic.”
Sydney Daniels, whose favorite NHL player is Alex Ovechkin, helped her Assabet Valley travel team to a national championship two years ago.
She has dual American and Canadian citizenship and last spring, she played for Team Saskatchewan at the national aboriginal hockey championships in Saskatoon. It was her first experience playing for a Canadian team.
She has a lot of hockey left to be played before she makes her college choice. It won’t be easy, because a lot of good schools are expected to be interested.
For now, Daniels, who also plays soccer and softball at Westminster, is content to be a high school scholar-athlete. She has a bright future and she is looking forward to all of the challenges that await her.
This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Fran Sypek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.