A few days after I got married, I ran into a former colleague. While we were catching up about my my new job – which requires me to spend as much time in ice rinks as I do in an office – she said I was a role model for women working in a male-dominated world, and said something that stuck with me: “Make sure you always mentor young girls. It’s 2013, but women are still one step behind men.”
Giving back in the hockey world had been something that was on mind. As a newly married 26-year-old, I’m not looking to start a family anytime soon, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it in the future. And as someone who works in hockey – you see how the sport can bring out the best and the worst in people. Sometimes you just need to remember how and why you fell in love with the sport on those tough days when you see the worst.
I got connected to Maine Girls Ice Hockey Association while I was researching the Biddeford, Maine, area. The company I work for owns a junior hockey team – the Maine Wild – which plays out of Biddeford Ice Arena, and I stumbled upon the MGIHA website.
After reading through the site, I realized the opportunities for girls to play hockey in Maine are significantly different than the opportunities in my home state of Massachusetts. Here, many towns have their own girls programs, and there are a number of “select” girls teams – where girls who are great at hockey can get some great best competition. While some towns in Maine have well-established girls programs, many do not, and girls who want to play hockey have to play with the boys (until checking is introduced, that is) and/or travel to wherever the opportunities present themselves.
Enter MGIHA – an organization that holds “Try Hockey For Free” days throughout October and November for girls of ANY age, and is working to establish teams and leagues for middle school and high school-aged girls to play hockey in Maine.
Talk about a big task. Luckily, there are a lot of men and women in Maine who are dedicated to making this happen, just because they love the sport so much and they want others to have the same opportunities they did. I decided to reach out, introduce myself, and offer to help set up and coach the girls on the ice at an upcoming “Try Hockey For Free Day.”
On Oct. 27, I made my way up 95 North and onto the Maine Turnpike – a familiar route to get to work at Biddeford Ice Arena. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I was in the right place when I saw this bad boy in the parking lot:
I walked into the rink and was immediately greeted by a teenage girl named Erin. She was so outgoing, friendly and seemed wise beyond her years. Erin and I hit it off right away and I was excited to work with her. She and her dad were pros – they’d run so many of these events before, all over the state of Maine.
Together we helped unload the trailer, which had bins upon bins of hockey equipment: skates, sticks, pants, socks, shoulder pads, elbow pads. We set them up so girls could pick whatever equipment they needed to get dressed and learn to play.
It looked like a hockey equipment graveyard, but I was amazed at how much equipment they had! Girls of all ages and sizes would surely be able to find equipment that fit them.
We had about 20 girls show up to the event, and one by one, volunteers assessed what equipment they needed and worked to find something that would fit them.
After each girl was fitted, the fun part began: getting dressed. The locker room is where memories are made. Those fleeting moments of tying a little girl’s skates for the first time or helping a goalie buckle her pads for the first time…that’s what it was about for me. Maybe she won’t remember those moments when she’s older, but those who were there and had a small part in igniting her love for hockey – we’ll remember.
We got the girls on the ice and divided them by ability – Erin worked with the girls who were novice skaters, while I worked with a group of girls on passing drills. Other coaches did controlled cross-ice scrimmages with players who had a little more experience.
We introduced the “hockey stance” to the little ones. We explained the mechanics of a good pass. We worked on some shooting against the boards.
We did some cross-overs around the circles. (Sorry girls, that drill is never fun!)
And we did some power skating and super-man drives across the ice.
The hour went by quickly, and after all was said and done, we had a lot of girls who had learned something new. Maybe they fell in love with the sport, and maybe they didn’t, but at least they got the opportunity to lace up the skates and try a sport they hadn’t been exposed to before. It was an opportunity I didn’t get as a kid (I didn’t start playing hockey until I was 21!) and I was happy to be a part of such a great event, organized an organization that is doing some very important work in the sport.
So my question is – what’s next? Who is next? What more can we do to help girls/women get and stay involved in hockey? It could be big, like starting an organization like MGIHA in your area. Or it could be small – like taking an hour of your time and bringing a little girl you know to the rink and exposing her to the sport.
Share your passion for the game however you feel you are called to do it – but please do it. Remember: it’s 2013, but women are still one step (or one skating stride…) behind men. If we as women don’t help lift one another, who will?