BURLINGTON, Vt. - Inside the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena there hangs a framed hockey sweater from SUNY Oswego.
The sweater, which is a re-creation of the one that once belonged to Falconer resident Tom McFall, was given to the JSBA recently in recognition not only of McFall's outstanding playing career with the Lakers - he was eventually inducted into the school's Hall of Fame - but also for being honored with the 27th annual Michael Duffett Memorial Award. The award is presented each year to the coach whose contributions to amateur hockey in Western New York "best exemplifies the knowledge, teaching and love of the game of Duffett," who worked in the Sabres hockey department under Scotty Bowman at the time of his death after a long battle with cancer.
You see, Tom, along with his brothers, John Jr. and Dan, have each had long, lasting and successful relationships with hockey (John Jr. is a varsity coach in Hamburg while Dan played in the NHL for the Winnipeg Jets and currently runs the Full Stride Hockey Program in Burlington, Vt.), and, to a man, credit their father, John Sr., with setting them on the path that led them to the many successes they've enjoyed in the sport over the years.
Falconer native Brianna McFall will be playing hockey for Rice Memorial (Vt.) High School, beginning in the fall. Rice Memorial is a select girls’ prep school team that competes at the highest level of competition.
Now, like his father before him, Tom is helping his daughter, Brianna, set out on a similar journey.
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Brianna McFall, who just finished her sophomore year at Falconer High School, has wanted to play college hockey for as long as she can remember.
"Probably ever since I realized there was college hockey," she said with a laugh.
A defenseman - like her father - Brianna, 16, had been in pursuit of that goal from the moment she put on ice skates for the first time when she was 4.
The only problem was, the odds of realizing that dream were rather long if she continued to play in Jamestown.
"The Southern Tier Storm is a Tier 2/Tier 3 program," Tom McFall said, referring to the different levels of competition within junior hockey leagues throughout the country. "Colleges (mainly) want to see only Tier 1 players, so we reached a point where if she wanted to play college hockey we had to make a drastic move."
That move, as it would turn out, presented itself in the form of one Walter O'Brien.
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Brianna first came in contact with O'Brien two years ago when she, and a number of other local players, had traveled with her father to Vermont to take part in a hockey camp that was being run by her uncle, Dan.
An assistant coach at the camp, O'Brien, the head coach at a private Catholic school in Burlington, was impressed with Brianna's talents and invited her back the following summer to play with one of his teams, called the Vermont Stars, at the Beantown Classic in Boston, which bills itself as one of the most highly-scouted elite hockey showcase tournaments in North America.
It was then that O'Brien, the head coach at Rice Memorial (Vt.) High School, first floated his idea - drastic though it was.
"Coach (O'Brien) asked me after the Beantown Classic if I wanted to come to Vermont (and play for him)," Brianna said. "I thought he was joking."
But he wasn't, not even a little.
For six months later, O'Brien called the McFalls and, once again, made the offer.
"It was probably the hardest decision I ever had to make," Brianna said.
But by April, she'd made it.
Brianna will be playing hockey for Rice Memorial, a select girls' prep school team that competes at the highest level of competition, including against prep school squads in the North American Prep Hockey Association and a competitive USA Hockey Tier I school schedule.
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Tom, nor his wife, Vikki, are looking forward to what's ahead.
"We've got an older daughter (Shannon) heading off to college, so it's going to be tough on the family," he said. "We're going to be empty-nesters two years early. It's going to be quite a change."
But he's happy for Brianna, and knows that she made the right call in deciding to make the move to Vermont for her junior and senior years.
"We felt the overall picture, with the school and the program, was a good fit for Brianna. It's run like a college program, the coaches have a lot of college connections and it'll be a great opportunity for her. She's really growing as a player, and the game is starting to come to her more.
"She couldn't turn it down."
Brianna, meanwhile, is excited to be moving ever closer to that lifelong dream.
"I'm excited to be playing at (the Tier 1) level, and I think being able to practice everyday, skate everyday and work with a trainer will help me a ton.
"I just want to play hockey."
And maybe, just maybe, one day have her jersey hung on the wall at JSBA, right next to the one belonging to her dad.