Girls hockey programs show promise in nontraditional markets | Home + Life + Health

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Megan Grenon stretched outdoors the rink earlier than a uncommon showcase of ladies’s hockey within the Washington, D.C, space when a younger lady approached together with her mother and father.

“Are you a hockey player? Are you playing today?” the lady requested.

“Yeah,” Grenon replied. “Are you here to watch me?”

Grenon performs for Calgary with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which has set a aim of creating a sustainable skilled league in North America after years with out one. Grenon mentioned she could be sporting No. 5 in white that day, and the younger lady jumped up and down in pleasure.

“You can cheer for me,” Grenon mentioned. “You can cheer for whoever you want.”

Scenes like which might be enjoying out extra usually throughout the nation because the U.S. girls’s nationwide workforce received gold on the 2018 Olympics and generated extra publicity for the game. There shall be NHL playoff hockey beginning subsequent week in Dallas, Tampa, Nashville, Raleigh and Washington, D.C., the place ladies hockey has expanded over the previous decade however nonetheless lags far behind conventional hotbeds like Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

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Because of logistical hurdles, from a scarcity of rinks and ice time to an absence of faculty and varsity highschool applications and the necessity for extra training, rising ladies hockey in nontraditional markets stays a problem. The 3,177 feminine gamers aged 18 and youthful registered by USA Hockey in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia mixed continues to be fewer than in Wisconsin alone.

“It’s been like a slow buildup,” mentioned Kush Sidhu, director and under-19 school prep workforce coach for the one top-tier junior girls’s hockey workforce in Washington space. “It’s always hard. It’s a struggle, I guess, but it’s a good struggle and we’re happy to do our part.”

The NHL’s Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals are additionally attempting to do their half to get participation numbers up in these areas — and comparable efforts are going down in Arizona and elsewhere across the league. The variety of ladies enjoying hockey in these states is up 71.3% from 2011 to 2021.

But the uncooked numbers nonetheless present a necessity for progress. Minnesota reported nearly 13,000 ladies enjoying hockey final yr, and that complete reaches 28,206 mixed with Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Michigan.

USA Hockey regional supervisor of feminine hockey Kristen Wright, who spent 5 years as supervisor of ladies participant improvement, is happy with the game’s speedy progress on the youth degree in nontraditional markets and thinks it may be even higher with extra publicity and ice time.

“Come of the challenges that come with that are female role models: Convincing girls that hockey is for them,” Wright mentioned. “They need to see it. You really need to see different female hockey players have female coaches and have that engagement there. And the other challenge, I would say, in some of those markets, there just aren’t as many ice rinks, so now instead of it being a soccer field that’s attached to your middle school or your elementary school, where you learned to run and kick a ball, well, you need to go to an ice rink.”

Nashville director of novice hockey Kristen Bowness, Tampa Bay hockey improvement ambassador Kelley Steadman and Carolina ladies’ and girls’s youth and novice hockey specialist Alyssa Gagliardi all cited an absence of ice rinks as one of many main hurdles. While watching a girls’s hockey occasion on the Washington Capitals observe facility final month, Sidhu echoed these issues.

“Where do we put new girls or new kids that want to play?” mentioned Sidhu, who has coached women and girls’s hockey because the late Nineteen Eighties and is director of the Washington Pride program within the D.C. space. “We’re pretty maxed out on all our ice time at every rink that we have, so that’s a bit of a challenge. When you compare us to other big metropolitan areas, we’re still pretty low, infrastructure-wise, on rinks.”

Getting ladies to get on the ice is step one, and in a whole lot of locations it begins with ball or road hockey. The Stars, Capitals and Hurricanes have all received the Stanley Cup, the Predators reached a ultimate and the Lightning are back-to-back defending champions, and but there can nonetheless be some hesitation for women taking on hockey.

“I’ll go to schools and we’ll do ball hockey and stuff like that and so many girls are still so surprised that I actually played,” mentioned Steadman, the Lightning’s hockey improvement ambassador who received two world championships with the U.S. and performed within the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and National Women’s Hockey League that has since been renamed Premier Hockey Federation.

“They’ll be like: ‘Oh, did you play, too? The boys played, but do you play?’ So here we’re still kind of in that grassroots (level) for some of these girls, where they’re not even aware of what women’s hockey is.”

Hence the necessity for applications like Canes Girls Youth Hockey and All Caps All Her, launched by the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals, respectively, final yr.

The Capitals have seen an inflow of youth hockey since Alex Ovechkin grew to become the face of the franchise in 2005 and ushered in an period of success culminating with the group’s first championship in 2018. While Capitals VP of promoting Amanda Tischler mentioned the “Ovechkin Effect” is actual in boosting participation, the workforce wanted to go additional than the learn-to-play applications that had been in place.

“What we were finding out is all these girls wanted to continue to play hockey,” Tischler mentioned. “And there was this other age group of 10-14, which is why we recently launched an all-girls learn-to-play for that age group, as well as an all-female adult learn-to-skate and adult learn-to- play.”

Canes Girls Youth Hockey is equally offering a pathway in North Carolina, the place gamers can go right into a improvement program and play in home leagues or on the junior degree to remain within the sport. There’s additionally an under-19 workforce that may preserve ladies round longer as an alternative of forcing them to go away the realm to go to prep college for hockey.

“It’s cool to see it go from basically nothing to we’ve got kids coming into the sport at 5-, 6-years old and now they could stay here all the way to going to play college hockey,” Gagliardi mentioned.

A scarcity of highschool varsity ladies and school girls’s hockey applications in nontraditional markets can also be a difficulty. Given the dearth of 1 main girls’s professional league, just like the WNBA or National Women’s Soccer League, faculties present probably the most constant motion apart from the Olympics each 4 years and the annual world championship.

USA Hockey began a nationwide highschool match to immediate extra progress at that degree. Wright mentioned school applications are going west to locations like Arizona, Colorado and Utah sooner than they’re transferring south, so extra gamers are leaving dwelling to remain on the ice and proceed their development.

Bowness, whose father Rick coaches the Stars, has frolicked with the Coyotes, Lightning and now Predators and put a whole lot of time into rising hockey in nontraditional locations. While in Tampa, she mentioned there was a junior varsity workforce that needed to play towards the boys and factors on the market’s a necessity for extra ladies within the pipeline general.

“Right now I think it’s more of a numbers thing,” Bowness mentioned. “We just need more girls playing in order to get leagues up and running.”

Haley Skarupa, who grew up in Rockville, Maryland, and received gold with the U.S. on the 2018 Olympics is aware of all a few numbers sport. After being the one lady on her workforce as a child, she’s impressed by the choices accessible within the Washington space.

“They’re not limited just to that option to play boys hockey,” mentioned Skarupa, who performed for the Pride and is now an envoy for the Capitals. “They can be on their own team with other girls, and that’s just grown so much.”

The Olympics and occasions placed on by the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, Premier Hockey Federation, USA Hockey and the NHL are in place to spur extra progress and but, Wright mentioned there are numerous items that want to come back collectively on that entrance. Now, greater than 20 years since girls’s hockey debuted on the Olympics in 1998, when school applications weren’t even in existence, generations of gamers are again locally as function fashions and it might take years for the fruits of their efforts to take form.

“Part of it is time,” Wright mentioned. “We don’t like to talk about time, but some of it takes time.”

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