The growth of female hockey on the North Island is something to celebrate, says Lisa Brown, co-ordinator for Tri-Port Female Hockey. “This season we have seen a 20 per cent increase in female participation compared to the last, which is more than double the number of players from five years ago.”
According to Brown, in the 2011/12 season, there were 41 female players within the whole Tri-Port Minor Hockey Association, and this season there were 94, with the overall number of players staying fairly consistent. Girls now make up 30 per cent of Tri-Port players, which is a significant difference compared to five years ago, when it was less than 15 per cent.
The 2016/2017 season was the Wild’s first as a stand-alone program. Up until this season, female hockey had been coordinated under the Port McNeill Minor Hockey Club.
Brown said it’s a very exciting opportunity for the local youth to now have a stand-alone program focused on female development. The program provides “certainty for players who only want to play female hockey.”
The Wild’s first season as an official program has been filled with many great accomplishments, one of them being the creation of a bantam Wild team, which joined the Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association’s female recreation league.
“The bantam team showed great development during the season,” said Brown. “Many of the girls on this team had only played one to three years of hockey, including the team’s goalie who was in her second year of hockey and new to playing goalie, and almost half of the players were peewees playing as underage.”
Thanks to strong coaching and the girls’ great work ethic, they continued to improve their skills throughout the season, tightening the scoring gap and putting the puck in the net.
“They really came together as a team, and girls that had played more hockey than the others stepped up to support the newer players,” Brown said, adding she knows it’s hard to be on the losing side of a game, “but these girls didn’t let it get them down, and in the end, it’s made them stronger hockey players and allowed them to see that the scoreboard is not the only way to measure success.”
Brown said the bantam team was a true ambassador of female hockey for the North Island this season, because they “played simply for the love of the game.”
Participation was also at an all-time high for the intro girls program, with 20 players this season. There was a significant increase in Port Hardy players, “which we were really hoping for,” said Brown, who added the intro team is intended for players new to hockey and youth with only a few years of hockey experience looking to close the gap created by starting hockey later than others.
“The focus is on skill development and confidence-building, with a lesser commitment for families with only one practice a week and 10 games throughout the season,” Brown said.
This season, they had 10 girls in the intro program who were totally brand new to playing hockey.
Brown, who was the coach of the intro girls team this season, said she was really impressed by the great attitude of the girls. “They worked hard, they listened, and they really embraced the team concept, which adds greater value than just simply learning about hockey. I’m very proud of the intro girls this season, and look forward to seeing them grow in their love of hockey and their sense of team. It’s both exciting and rewarding to be part of this.”
The Wild midget team has also continued to shine again this season. They finished second in the female midget recreation league, drew some attention at a couple of tournaments, and held their own when playing against AAA-level players.
The midget Wild are comprised of a mix of very experienced hockey players and some with only three or four years of experience, and they all came together to exemplify the team concept.
“There are no cliques,” said Brown. “Everyone gets along and they support each other on and off the ice. Their strong sense of teamwork has empowered this group of girls to exceed every expectation put forward by their coaches and families.”
Brown personally thanked all the Wild’s coaches, volunteers, and the players’ families for all the amazing support this year.
She added the Tri-Port Minor Hockey Executive has also been very supportive, and without the Executive, the current growth of female hockey on the North Island would not be happening.
“With the rapid growth of the female hockey, one of our biggest challenges is keeping up with the equipment demands,” said Brown. “Jerseys and goalie equipment are expensive, and an extra cost that isn’t covered by the players’ registration fees. The girls have been doing fundraising, but even that’s not enough, so we’ve been reaching out to North Island businesses for support, and we’re greatly appreciative of their help.”
The Wild’s players and coaches are already looking forward to next season.
“Volunteers are staying busy, with plans underway to host an Esso Fun Day in July, which is an opportunity for local girls to try hockey, at no cost to families,” said Brown.
“We’re very optimistic that interest in female hockey will continue to grow on the North Island, so our focus now is how we set these girls up for success moving forward. This is an exciting stage to be at, a celebration, and it’s only been made possible by great community support, which we are extremely grateful for as a program.”
Anyone who is interested in more info on the female minor hockey program can contact Brown at 250-956-2224.
— The Wild’s year-end awards continued on page 22.