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World champions

He’s gone from coaching youth hockey in Northeast Philadelphia to helping teams conquer the world. And through it all, one thing has remained the same — his love for the game.

Burholme resident Chalie Sgrillo has come a long way since his first coaching gig in 1982 at McVeigh Playground in Kensington.

Nowadays, he’s making history.

While Sgrillo has certainly remained loyal to his roots — he’s a Philadelphia firefighter in Kensington and continues to coach in Northeast Philadelphia — his capabilities have allowed him to travel the world.

The coaching guru recently returned from Roccaraso, Italy, where he guided the USA Women’s Inline Hockey team to claim the FIRS World Championship.

“It hasn’t completely settled in yet,” said Sgrillo, who guided his USA squad to a 3–2 victory over Canada for the gold. “I’m still enjoying it. I still go to YouTube and watch the last ten seconds of that game. It was hard to believe, because we were in such a nail-biting game. You think the clock is going to run out and next thing you know, you’re world champions.”

Team USA’s path to the World Championship title did not come easily. In fact, it took every second of game action for the hometown heroes to claim the crown.

It was a goal by rookie Kayla Demint with :01 left on the clock that eventually sealed their glorious fate. With 10 seconds left in game action and the score tied at 2 a piece, defenseman Allie Era took an open opportunity to turn up the speed and fly down the rink and take her best shot. Canadian goalie Keely Brown made the save, but as the loose puck went behind the net, Demint swooped in, picked it up and wrapped around the opposite side of the goal for the game-winning shot.

“It’s hard to describe the feeling I got scoring the winning goal in the last second,” recalled Demint, 21, a graphic design student at Azusa Pacific University in California. “All I can remember is seeing the puck go in, the ref pointing, and then I was ecstatic, jumping up and down, and then my teammates dog-piled on top of me.

“It is an awesome feeling to represent your country, and even more to get the opportunity to see another part of the world while you do it,” she added. “It was a dream come true.”

The USA’s World Championship ride initiated with a 3–0 win over Australia in the first round of the tournament, which took place in Italy’s Roccaraso Sports Plex in July. USA soon downed Finland, 5–1, followed by a 5–1 victory over Italy.

USA lost to Canada, 4–2, in pool play (which helps determine playoff seeding), but quickly rebounded with a 3–2 victory over the Czech Republic in the first round of playoffs. USA shut out Spain, 6–0, which earned them a place in the championship match-up against Canada.

“The most challenging part of the World Championships was the quality of the competition we faced,” said Charlotte Nicholson, 24, of New York, who has competed for the USA team for seven years. “We tied Canada in round robin play and then they beat us in a tie-breaker to determine seeding. They were good competition, but it was the most rewarding experience to win in the last second of the finals.”

Team USA’s storybook season initiated with open tryouts, which were held in mid-May in Pittsburgh. Athletes throughout the country were invited to showcase their skills for an opportunity to represent the United States in the World Championships. Over the course of three days, the final team was chosen by a committee of five coaches, including Sgrillo.

“I liked what we saw at tryouts. I liked what our final picks were,” said Sgrillo. “I was confident that we had a very good chance. Last year was my first experience being head coach with the women’s team. I knew what we needed to improve on. I think we addressed those issues successfully.

“The girls all play in home cities and teams and areas,” he continued. “It’s like trying out for U.S. Olympic team. You play where you play, then whoever shows up and plays the best at the tryouts, makes the team.”

This year’s squad included players from California, Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, New York, Oregon, Georgia and Rhode Island. And thanks to their head coach — and his son, Chalie Sgrillo Jr., who volunteered as an assistant coach — Pennsylvania was also represented.

“It certainly gives you a sense of respect when you put on that jersey in the locker room and look around at all the talent and leadership in the room and realize we all come from different states and backgrounds and we play for our one country,” said forward Celeste Loyatho, 19, of San Juan Capistrano, Calif. “It is really neat.”

Although this was only Sgrillo’s second year as head coach of the USA women’s team — he guided the squad to a bronze medal last year — his coaching resume spans nearly three decades.

While growing up in Kensington, Sgrillo played roller hockey at McVeigh Playground. At the time, Gary Balmer ran the local league, which he operated since the 1960s. In 1982, Balmer announced his retirement, and Sgrillo was a perfect fit for his replacement.

“I’ve gone from playing there to running the league there,” said Sgrillo. “I ran my leagues the same way Gary did. That’s where I got my experience. Gary taught me everything I know.”

In 1990, Sgrillo and his wife Margie moved to Burholme. He immediately approached Cathy Maloney-Carchidi, director of Lawncrest Recreation Center, with hopes of starting a new in-house hockey league.

“I asked permission to take the tennis courts and make them into hockey rinks. That was the start,” recalled Sgrillo, who headed Lawncrest’s hockey program for the next 10 years. “We went from the rec league to the tournament teams. Players were able to play at the next level.”

By 2002, the Sgrillo family moved to Burholme.

Once again, their timing was perfect.

“That’s when Fox Chase was starting up a hockey league that runs in the spring and the fall,” said Sgrillo, who volunteers with Fox Chase and was also hired as the Northeast Racquet Club’s athletic director in 2002, where he continues to work. “So now in the winter, they can play at the Northeast Racquetball Center.”

Sgrillo’s smorgasbord of accomplishments in the local hockey scene continues to multiply.

He is an advanced level USA Hockey accredited coach, a USA hockey referee (level 3) and a USARS/AAU inline referee and coach.

Over the years, Sgrillo has coached and refereed more than 2,000 hockey games.

“For me winning the gold this year was kind of the coup de grace from where we started,” said Sgrillo. “Gary (Balmer) and Cathy (Maloney-Carchidi) — they’re the fundamental people behind me having the opportunity to coach at the world championships.

“It all started with youth hockey in the area,” he added. “We’ve gone from Lawncrest to world champions.” ••

Sports editor Melissa Yerkov can be reached at myerkov@bsmphilly.com

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