Regina-Lutheran North United head coach Paul Buscemi gathers the team during a team practice on Dec. 26 at Big Boy Arena.

Regina-Lutheran North United head coach Paul Buscemi gathers the team during a team practice on Dec. 26 at Big Boy Arena.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Sisterhood has team dreaming of state finals trip

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | C&G Newspapers | Published February 5, 2024

 Regina-Lutheran North United skates during a team practice.

Regina-Lutheran North United skates during a team practice.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Regina-Lutheran North United head coach Paul Buscemi stands by the alumni inspiration wall.

Regina-Lutheran North United head coach Paul Buscemi stands by the alumni inspiration wall.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


MACOMB COUNTY — If you walk into the office of Regina-Lutheran North United head coach Paul Buscemi at Big Boy Arena, it’s impossible not to notice the alumni inspiration wall.

The wall, a tradition started last year by Buscemi, is filled top to bottom with quotes from former Warren Regina and Macomb Lutheran North hockey players, and it’s the first thing the team sees before they make their way into the locker room.

While the wall spells out encouragement and love for each Regina-Lutheran North team that calls the locker room home, the years and years of sisters to grace the United uniform tell a much deeper story of what the team is all about.

Senior Gina Schaffran follows in the footsteps of her two sisters, Annie, who is currently an assistant coach on the team, and Elizabeth; junior Kaitlin Garrett follows her older sister, Allison, who graduated last year; and senior Kate Hetherington has her older sister, Reese, a 2019 graduate.

Then there’s the in-locker room sisterhood of senior Neely Taylor and sophomore Laney Taylor, or even team manager Jennifer Heppler, the mother of senior Elisabeth Heppler.

There are teams that describe themselves as a family, and then there’s a team that actually has the culture of being a family, regardless of the co-op designation of Regina or Lutheran North.

“They teach each other and they support each other, and that was our talk at the beginning of the year,” Buscemi said. “We can’t get down on each other. We’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to learn, and we’re going to support each other. They’ve done a great job on that.”

There’s laughter and conversation in the locker room before each practice as the team congregates around Buscemi’s desk, but when they step on the ice, they’re all business, especially after last season.

Regina-Lutheran North fell to Grosse Pointe North 5-4 in the semifinals, coming up one game short of a trip to the state finals.

“The last two minutes of the game, we dominated them,” Buscemi said. “We hit the goal post twice. I think if we had another minute, we would’ve played in the championship last year.”

It was an impressive ending to a season where United was 1-8 through the first two months of play before capping off an 11-5 finish.

Carrying momentum into the season, all but one player for last year’s squad, and currently the top team in Division 2 with a 10-5 record, the players are eager to return to the spotlight.

“This year’s seniors, they have a goal,” Buscemi said. “They came up with a slogan of ‘one team, one dream.’ The dream is to make it to the finals. Obviously, they want to win, but their goal is to make it to the finals.”

United is comprised of seven senior veterans, who all bring a form of leadership to the table for an underclassmen-heavy United squad.

Eleven of the 20 skaters on the roster are freshman or sophomores, so the need for leadership was a top priority.

Schaffran, Neely Taylor and Anastasia Tomezak headline the group as the top-three point leaders on the team.

Schaffran leads the team in points (14) and goals (12) while Tomezak’s nine assists tops the scoresheet.

Neely Taylor, who is second on the team with 13 points, said she’s enjoyed being the person the underclassmen can look up to.

“It’s definitely a change because I used to look up to the older girls, now I’m the mentor for them,” she said.

Neely Taylor also has the job of mentoring her younger sister, Laney.

Laney Taylor has come into her own this season at the forward position.

“She doesn’t want to admit that I’m right sometimes,” Neely Taylor said. “When coach Paul tells her something, she looks at me like I should say something. I’m just like, ‘He’s telling you what you need to do.’”

United has also seen significant contributions from sophomore sensation Ruby Des Madryl, who has 10 points on the season; freshman Ella Barnhard (currently second on team with nine goals); and freshman Lana Wright.

Barnhard recently put up a two-goal game on Jan. 26 against Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, which is currently second in Division 2.

Buscemi said Barnhard missed on a scoring opportunity during their win against Cranbrook, and he let her know about it, but it was Barnhard who got the last laugh as she scored moments later. Barnhard plays with a fire under her, and she’s shown her full potential as an impact player already in her first season.

It’s hard to talk about United without mentioning how the goaltenders and defense have been getting the job done. United has allowed two or fewer goals in nine of their 14 matchups.

Neely Taylor and Schaffran lead the defensive unit as team captains, but Wright, freshman Morgan Stockwell, and junior Brianna Champagne have been reliable contributors while Garrett and senior Claire Pullen cover the net.

“We got two solid goaltenders in junior Kaitlin Garrett, and her backup Claire Pullen,” Buscemi said. “If Kaitlin can’t make it, I have no problem putting in Claire. I think it starts from the back end and out. We have a good, young defense.”

Des Madryl, Heppler, Laney Taylor, Tomezak, and sophomore Jeneveve Lewis lead the forward position.

United has the depth and the talent to make it back to the semifinals and they’ve shown the rest of Division 2 that they’re the team to beat.

“Last season, we had our highs and lows,” Neely Taylor said. “This season, we’re coming out strong.”