AKWESASNE, N.Y. - A 17-year-old's lifelong hockey career earned her national attention this summer and a spot on the exclusive women's Under 18 Team USA hockey team.
Alley Bero was already a star in her hometown, the Akwesasne Mohawk territory in northern New York, where she has led her mostly-Native high school hockey team to four consecutive state titles, but a phone call early this summer bumped her up to a new level of competition.
A representative from USA Hockey - the nation's highest level of amateur hockey - called the Bero residence and asked to speak with the high school senior.
''They said, 'Congratulations, you made the Under 18 team,''' Bero said of the phone call. ''I was just excited and happy!''
Bero's mother cried when she heard the news and hugged her daughter, congratulating her for another hard-earned career high.
Bero is the only American Indian on the team, according to her coach, Katey Stone. She was selected for her ''strong work ethic and sense for the game,'' Stone said.
Stone is Harvard University's womens hockey team coach and she has 20 years of coaching experience under her belt.
Bero is no newcomer to hockey herself. At the age of 4, she and her twin sister had two winter sports to choose from. While her sister took up figure skating, Bero didn't let the lack of a girls hockey team stop her from taking up the sport. She played on boys teams for the first half of her hockey career, learning aggression from her teammates and growing accustomed to a game that's generally faster and tougher than girls hockey.
''It's definitely a faster game playing with the guys,'' she said. ''It's very heads up.''
Now Bero is accustomed to playing on girls teams, but her time spent with the boys prepared her for a game that's quicker than normal house leagues and school teams.
In August, Bero and the rest of the Team USA U-18 team played together for the first time in a three-game series against Team Canada in Ottawa.
There, the speed and skill of North America's best teen hockey players was evident. With her own hometown just an hour away, Bero drew in more fans than any other player as aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends made the drive from Akwesasne to Ottawa to see her play. Though most of the players towered over the petite Bero, Stone told her she played a good game.
Though Team USA lost all three games of the series against Team Canada, Bero will meet with her teammates again in December to prepare for the World Hockey Tournament in Manitoba, Canada, in January. There, Bero will share the ice with the world's best teen hockey players and she hopes her playtime will help her chances of someday making the Olympic hockey team.