With her team trailing by four goals and one 15-minute period remaining, Hatboro-Horsham coach Tricia Silvestri gathered her players at the home bench of the Bucks County Ice Sports Center in Warminster.

"Does anyone here have a doubt in their mind that we can come back?" Silvestri asked, panning the group, scanning their eyes.

"Anyone?"

For a dose of can-do fortitude, they needed only to look back at their coach, who has blazed a unique trail in local high school boys' ice hockey.

Six years after becoming the first woman to score a goal in the Flyers Cup tournament, Silvestri is the first female varsity head coach in the 38-year history of the Suburban High School Hockey League.

The 24-year-old Temple student, who played Division III women's hockey at Cortland State and the Rochester Institute of Technology after four seasons playing on the Hatboro-Horsham boys' team, hopes this is the beginning of a long career in coaching.

That's why she transferred schools, and changed majors, for the second time, going from physical education at Cortland State to hospitality and service management at RIT to sports and recreation management at Temple.

Asked where she wants to go from here, Silvestri replied, "Up."

The Hatters play in the small-school division of the SHSHL, which fields only boys' teams, and she hopes someday to coach one of the bigger-division squads. Silvestri, who began coaching after years of being an instructor at camps and clinics, also would like to coach in college - men's or women's.

Then there is what she calls her "ceiling": the NHL.

"I would love to coach professionally," Silvestri said. "I would love to be the first female head coach."

As she puts it, she is "shooting for the stars."

Her desire to shoot for the net began when she was about 2 years old and her mother, Lisa, started taking her to Flyers games. Lisa Silvestri's best friend had a son who played hockey, and the two adults took their children to an open skate one day. Tricia Silvestri, an only child, skated really well for a novice, and from then on, she said, "I was bugging my mom to start playing."

Tricia Silvestri started with youth hockey as a 7-year-old and then played in middle school, at forward and in goal. When Silvestri reached high school, her mother didn't want her to play forward, fearing she would get hurt.

So for her freshman and sophomore years at Hatboro-Horsham, she was a goalie. Back then, she said, she might have been the only girl playing in the varsity small-school division. (This season, there are two girls on Silvestri's team alone.)

Silvestri left the crease for her junior and senior years, and as a senior made history at the 2004 Flyers Cup. She remembers the play well: She was in front of the net when she took a pass and let rip a shot.

"I just shot it so hard that I didn't even care to look where it was going," she said, adding she knew she'd scored when she heard cheering.

Silvestri played for both boys' and girls' teams during her high school days. In fact, in her sophomore and junior years, she said, she was on four teams - the Hatters' junior varsity and varsity, and two girls' squads. As a junior, she also spent four months at the North American Hockey Academy in Stowe, Vt. There, she was recruited by colleges.

Silvestri eventually enrolled at Cortland State, and as a freshman posted team highs in goals (nine) and assists (14) and was named to the 2005 ECAC West all-rookie team. She also played for RIT and the University of Rochester club team before returning to this area in 2008, to be closer to her family.

She coached Hatboro-Horsham's junior varsity in 2008-09 and moved up to varsity assistant last season, because the team didn't field a junior varsity squad. When the Hatters' varsity coach chose not to return, Silvestri stepped up.

Gaining the respect of the players wouldn't be a problem, she thought, because she knew many of them from the previous two seasons. Still, she wasn't taking chances.

"From the beginning, I was a little tough, just so they kind of picked up that I wasn't going to be easy just because I was a girl," said the 5-foot-4 Silvestri, who plays these days for the Philadelphia Freeze women's team.

"We had a couple of practices where some of them weren't expecting, I think, for it to be that hard, so they had just eaten dinner before they came out on the ice."

To the surprise of some, Silvestri ratcheted up the skating and conditioning drills. Some players, she said, ended up vomiting.

But the transition, overall, went smoothly, Silvestri and assistant coach Gus Salfiti said. The Hatters are 8-4 overall, and 5-2 in the SHSHL and tied for first place in their division.

"They took to her nicely," Salfiti said after the Hatters failed to overcome an 8-4 deficit and lost to Upper Dublin, 10-5, recently.

"I know she's a woman and there was some concern, but . . . they know that she's got the experience. She played for Hatboro-Horsham when she was younger. She's the only female to score in the Flyers Cup. They respect her ability. She knows the game, and they understand that she knows the game."

Contact staff writer Lou Rabito

at 215-854-2916 or rabitol@phillynews.com.