Silva standing tall in net for Bengals


Buffalo State Sports Information

Justine Silva has led Buffalo state to its best season in program history; the Bengals (17-6) currently sit at fourth in the ECAC West

Louie DiBiase, Reporter

Buffalo State has something special in sophomore goaltender Justine Silva.

She stands at a “towering” 5-foot-3 and calls California home. It wouldn’t seem like hockey is Silva’s calling, especially not as a goaltender. However, with a lot of hard work and determination, Silva has become one of the best goaltenders in Division III.

Growing up in Baldwin Park, California, Silva wasn’t accustomed to seeing kids playing street hockey in every neighborhood.

Hockey is like a religion in Buffalo, but is much less popular on the west coast.

Silva’s father became interested in the sport at an early age. However, he was unable to play until he was an adult.

“Hockey wasn’t big when my dad was growing up, and although he wanted to play, my grandmother couldn’t afford it, so he waited until he could make the decision for himself,” Silva said.

Unlike her dad, Justine and her two sisters were given the opportunity to play hockey at a young age.

“My dad always loved the sport, unfortunately he never got the opportunity to play growing up, so he really pushed me and my sisters to play,” Silva said.

Hockey isn’t passed down from generation to generation in most Californian families, but it was in the Silva family.

“We really are the first generation in the Silva family that has gotten into the true beauty and competitiveness of hockey,” Silva said.

Although hockey hasn’t grown to its full potential out west, Silva sees the sport growing more and more in warm-weather states.

“It isn’t as common back west, but it really is growing.” Silva said. “A lot of programs are beginning to gain traction and you see more schools trying to implement things like street hockey to the communities, which is great to see.”

After spending a few seasons with the Anaheim Lady Ducks, Silva verbally committed to Buffalo State and made the cross-country move shortly thereafter.

Familiarity with the school factored into her decision, as her sister Nicole Laurel-Silva played for Buffalo State in the early years of the women’s hockey program.

“Familiarity was big for me, however I really loved everything Coach Moxley and the assistants had to say about their ideas of building the program and implementing a winning culture,” Silva said. “They wanted to win now and I saw an incredible opportunity here.”

Location wasn’t the only thing holding Justine Silva back from pursuing her dream as a hockey player.

Being undersized at 5-foot-3, Silva’s hopes of becoming a goaltender were predicated on adjusting her style of play to fit her strengths. A short goaltender may not be able to use the same techniques that taller goalies do and have success.

“I just had to play bigger than other goalies,” Silva said. “Every goalie has to play big, of course, but having the disadvantage at size, I have to play with more confidence and challenge skaters farther away. =”

Moxley feels size may be a reason why Silva wasn’t recruited by any D-I programs.

“She wasn’t getting the notice from Division I schools strictly because of her size,” Buffalo State head coach Candice Moxley said. “She may be small, but she is athletic and has the big save capability any team needs in a goaltender.”

Neither growing up in California, which is far from the hockey hotbed that Buffalo is, nor being undersized has held Justine Silva back from having success at the collegiate level.

Silva has a 15-6 record as a starter this season, a .947 save percentage (8th best in D-III,) and a 1.47 goals-against average (16th best in division three hockey).

Silva has led the Bengals to the best season in program history thus far.

Silva’s coaches and teammates had only positive things to say about Silva’s impact on the team.

“When we were recruiting a goalie for Buffalo State, we wanted an individual who could step in and be an impact player immediately,” Moxley said. “Silva has the ability to swing the momentum of a game and keep us in games against the toughest teams in the country.”

Team captain Viivi Vaattovaara talked about Silva’s strengths both on and off the ice.

“Justine has been able to hold us in games when our players have had lapses. She has covered our backs,” Vaattovaara said. “All-in-all, she is a great teammate off the ice as well; she is always smiling and can pick you up when you’re down. We are extremely lucky to have her.”

Being that Silva is only a sophomore, she has plenty of time to improve and remain one of Division III’s best goaltenders, which is great news for the Bengals, but unfortunate for the rest of the ECAC West conference.

“The best part is she is only a sophomore,” Moxley said. “The more experiences she faces early in her career, the better she is going to get.”

Silva represents the growth and influence the game of hockey has realized in recent years, and her great success is a story of overcoming the stigmatization of undersized athletes.

“Play as big as you want to be,” Silva said.

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