Game on for girls hockey
Hayley Wickenheiser can hammer off more pull-ups than most hockey players her age, male or female.
She is the queen of women’s hockey in Canada and a trailblazer who has played pro alongside men in Finland and starred in the Olympics for what seems a zillion years.
At 33, Wickenheiser is the most photographed and quoted female player in the game. And she has also produced some great sound bytes as well.
On taking her son Noah on a road trip: “You’d never see that on a men’s team with a little baby on the bus who is crying at midnight. All the girls enjoy having him around.”
The Saskatchewan product is the major reason why, since the first-ever IIHF World Women’s Championship in 1990, female registration has grown every year, with a huge 30 per cent rise in 1999. There are close to 86,000 females playing hockey today. There were less than 16,000 almost 20 years ago.
There are provincial, regional, national and international championships, which allow players more exposure and chances to compete. Players no longer have a chance to play – they have choices on where to play.
There are more colleges and universities offering women’s hockey programs.
Mackenzie Barrie of Vernon is currently trying to decide between chasing a university scholarship for hockey or golf, choices that haven’t always been there for girls. She played Major Midget hockey in Kelowna last year.
Mairyn Tucker of Vernon played spring hockey for Team Pacific in the Quebec Women’s Prospect tournament in Montreal. Tucker’s team finished second out of 14 Pee Wee entries, losing to Maplesoft Major of Ontario in the final.
As well, Makenna Hoffman and Jenna Fletcher of Vernon played for a regional team in the May Challenge Cup in Langley.
Molly Box played for Team Pacific Bantam Minor and Juli Gilowski of Vernon suited up for the Pacific Pee Wee squad. Vernon Sladen Moore Pee Wee Lakers Andie Kaneda and Emily Clarke were also invited to Team Pacific but had to decline due to prior Rep soccer commitments.
Laker coach Keith Tucker notes that the North Shore Avalanche, Surrey Falcons, Richmond Ravens and Tri Cities are female-only hockey associations.
Mairyn Tucker was stoked at the Team Pacific experience.
“Team Pacific is much different than I’m used to,” said Tucker. “All the girls have so much energy and that helps me. I have learned lots of new things like different drills, plays and the practices are at a faster pace. It challenges me and makes me work hard. I’ve made new friends from this team too.”
Vernon minor hockey may never be a female-only association, but they are certainly working hard to promote the game. Scheduling female ice slots becomes tough when exact girls numbers are not known come registration time in July. Early bird date is July 15 (www.vernonminorhockey.com)
You don’t have to be a Wickenheiser wannabe to join girls hockey. You just need a desire to have fun with other girls in a great game.
Said Rob Bauml, coach of the Bantam Girls house team last year: “The house program is for players of all skill levels who want to learn to play hockey. We try to provide a fun environment that allows for skill development and good friendships.
“Women’s leagues are cropping up all over and if you start playing when you are younger, you have a head start to play the game for the rest of your life. It is never too late to start playing the game. Even if you are a beginner skater, we can find a place for you to fit in on our girls teams.”
Bauml said many of his players expressed more joy at playing all-girls rather than co-ed.
“We are on the verge of having a full female league in Pee Wee and Bantam in the Okanagan this year and this means that girls can play against girls all year long.”
Arnie Head, who coached the Lakers last year, says female players often switch on better than boys.
“The girls listen a lot better than the boys. If you explain the reason why you’re doing something they understand quicker. With boys, if they do not know they will just watch the other players and do what they are doing. With the girls, you get a lot more questions. So if you’re not careful on explanation, you can be there answering questions a lot longer.”
Head tries to balance fun with a high level of work ethic. He says girls are more emotional than boys.
“People see that they do not appear as serious as the boys teams (in practice). However, when game time comes, the players come to play (we were the hardest working team at provincials). I found that we needed to coach with hard work and fun being the base...I wanted to have all players return next season. I felt that you get more out of the players when they respect and enjoy what you are doing.”