March 24, 2011

From NEHJ: New Canaan's Persky not just a pretty face

By Mike Zhe

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Jana Persky

Through her four years at New Canaan High School, forward Jana Persky has made things look easy.

She’s been a key part of teams that have won two state titles and one Fairfield County title in Connecticut. She’s just the second girl in state history to collect 200 points in her career, and she and her linemates are on the verge of setting a state points record.

But there was a time when it wasn’t that easy — specifically, at the start of her sophomore year, when she was named a team captain over girls who were much more experienced.

“You come in as a freshman just trying to learn the ropes, then sophomore year you’re asked to take a role leading the team,” she said. “It was tough.”

Things eventually jelled, with both Persky and the upperclassmen playing large roles on a team that would lose to Darien in both the county and state finals. Last season, the Rams went 23-1 and wore both crowns.

“I took a lot of flak for it,” New Canaan coach Rich Bulan said, “but she would talk (in the locker room) as a freshman, and she’d make so much sense. She admitted it was tough, but she was so thankful that the upperclassmen all had the same goals.”

Persky has grown into the captain’s role, but the goals haven’t changed for New Canaan, which under Bulan’s guidance has won five of the last seven Fairfield County titles and four of the last five state championships. The Rams were 17-1 at this writing and had clinched the top seed for the upcoming Fairfield County playoffs.

Along with her linemates these past two seasons — sophomores Olivia Hompe and Bea Eppler — Persky is both achieving and on her way to achieving state milestones.

In a 4-0 win over Trumbull on Valentine’s Day, she scored two goals, giving her 200 points for her high school career. The only other girl in Connecticut to reach that mark was Maggie Westfal, who put up 181-80-261 totals during her New Canaan career (2001-05) and went on to play at Yale.

“At this point, it’s just a number,” Persky said. “Everyone says I’ll look back on it in a while and appreciate it more than I do now.”

Last month, Persky matched another of Westfal’s feats when she was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” section. Westfall had appeared in the magazine in 2005, and Persky was tabbed for the Feb. 3 issue after scoring hat tricks in three straight games.

“They called me up a couple of days before and I thought that was pretty cool,” Persky said. “You always look at those faces and wonder who they are and what they’ve done. To open the magazine and see your face, it’s like, ‘Wow!’”

As a center, one of her assets is her positioning. Combined with good hockey sense, she always seems to be in the right place to make a play, offensively or defensively.

“If you watched her, you’d say good skater, good shot, just a solid hockey player,” Bulan said. “She’s smart. She knows when to pass and when not to. It’s amazing to watch her because when you do watch her, you understand that she gets it.”

“I just try to always work hard, always put myself in the right spot, whether it’s pressuring the puck or in front of the net,” Persky said. “I’ve gotten a lot more confident handling the puck. I used to always pass it right away because I wasn’t confident enough to carry it up ice.”

She’s quick to pass credit to her linemates, as well as goalie Britt Gardella, who’s stepped into a starting role. In late February, with two games left in the regular season, the trio up front was six points shy of the single-season state record for a girls line.

“Here’s the funny thing,” Bulan said. “The record they’re going for as a line was set in 2007, with Olivia’s two older sisters (Xandra and Eliza).”

“Olivia’s a great playmaker, one of the best players I’ve ever seen in the way she sees the ice and moves the puck,” Persky said. “Bea is little, but she’s really tough. She’s always in front of the net or battling players in the corner or chasing them out of the zone.”

On a team that graduated its second-line center, two defensemen and its top goalie, the Rams had questions coming into the season. But those were answered quickly.

“We graduated four very important players,” Bulan said. “We knew we had some holes to fill, but we also had a lot of talent coming back.”

A center midfielder and captain on a New Canaan soccer team that reached the Class L semifinals in the fall, Persky is not sure she’ll even play hockey in college. She’s waiting to hear back from the schools she applied to; she plans to make her decision based on academics, and is leaning toward playing soccer over hockey if it comes to that.

Regardless of how that turns out, Jana Persky has proven to be much more than just another face in the crowd.

Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com