Staring down an opposing goalie or taking aim at a target the size of a pinhead, Danielle Makucevich has nerves of steel.
The pint-sized girl with the pony tail sticking out of the back of her green helmet fetched the puck at the end boards, turned up ice and made what she thought was a perfect pass onto the blade of her teammate’s stick. Only the pass never reached its intended target, and the puck wound up in her own net. Minutes later, a bigger, stronger opponent muscled the puck past her for another goal.
Danielle didn’t dread her skate back to the bench. There was, after all, much more hockey to be played during the recent Holy Name tournament in West Springfield, Mass.
“Our coach [Brad Read] says, ‘Get right back in there,’ ” says Danielle, an 11-year-old girl who plays on a boys’ travel team out of Newport, R.I.
“I get kind of angry at myself, and when I get angry at myself, it’s like in shooting. When I shoot bad targets, when I just get angry, I do better on the next one.”
The next target could be another pass to an open teammate or taking a shot at a bull’s-eye. Either way, the Portsmouth, R.I., native, is a marksman with a passion for shooting pucks and .22 caliber bullets.
“She would not be as good as she is in shooting if she was not playing hockey,” says her mother Michele. “She’s in great shape and has great muscle control and balance. If you play hockey, you’ve got balance.
“She has so many competitions in hockey that she doesn’t get nervous for shooting competitions. She’s really developed as an athlete because of all the hockey she’s done.”
Hockey requires some of the accuracy essential to Danielle’s success as a marksman, but steadiness in hockey is like a jogger’s step over a puddle – it happens quickly.
Forced to think on her skates, Danielle picked herself after a tough first period in West Springfield and assisted on a goal in the second as Newport closed the deficit to 3-2. They’d lose the game – they lost all three that weekend – but Read could do nothing but smile when talking about his smallest player.
“She’s an incredibly coachable kid, and I think all multi-sport athletes who are really good at their sports are easily coached,” says Read.
At 4-foot-8, what Danielle can do on a hockey rink is limited, but that doesn’t stop her from trying. She loves hockey “because it’s a team,” but in the summer she packs away her skates and picks up a rifle five or six days a week. She pitches in softball and has played soccer, but the evidence of the places hockey and shooting hold in her life are as simple as family cats that are named Tenex (a type of ammunition) and Zamboni.
Danielle’s younger brother Matthew piqued her interest in hockey when he was a toddler and went around the Makucevich household using anything and everything as a hockey stick and smacking everything as if it were a hockey puck. Jealous at the sight of his unabashed fun, Danielle wanted in on the good times.
“Danielle is a very deliberate girl ... so [hockey] is good for her,” says mom.
Dan and Michele Makucevich are proud hockey parents and Rhode Island rifle champions in their own right, and Danielle’s godmother Nancy Tompkins is a nationally decorated marksman. And Danielle has already taken great strides to follow in their footsteps.
“I want to go to the Olympics for shooting,” says Danielle, who made it to the Junior Olympics in Colorado Springs this year and competed in 10-meter air rifle.
Danielle shoots “smallbore” with a shortened .22 caliber rifle at 10- and 100-meter distances, and air rifle indoors from 10 meters.
On one shot at the Junior Olympics, she scored a 10.9 out of a possible 11, but no one ever scores 11. Medals are earned by the number of near-perfects a competitor can deliver, and Danielle has put up a personal-best in every national event she’s entered.
She’s the youngest ever to win Rhode Island’s junior championship, outscoring competitors up to 20 years old.
Shooting against adults is a little like playing hockey against boys, the only difference being whether the bumps and bruises are physical or mental. But, ever up for a challenge, Danielle isn’t interested in being the big fish in the small pond.
“I just like playing with the boys more,” she says. “Whenever something doesn’t go as well as I want, I just try even harder.”
shooting photos - kevin sullivan photography