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Cape Ann Youth Hockey: Doubling down on girls’ hockey pays off

01/14/2014, 4:45pm EST
By Tom Robinson - Special to USAHockey.com

With the number of girls involved in its programs dwindling, the Cape Ann Youth Hockey board of directors decided not to give up. Instead, the Gloucester, Mass. organization increased its commitment to girls, offering more options that have already created strong growth in less than two years.

Cape Ann was down to just six girls playing co-ed hockey, and half of them were sticking just with house leagues and not the travel options. That’s when the association hosted and promoted girls’ hockey open houses in March and April of 2012 to begin its outreach program.

Cape Ann now puts three competitive girls’ travel teams on the ice, and they are quickly developing their own identity.

“They don’t have a lot of role models,” Cape Ann Director of Girls’ Hockey Andy Amigo said. “They’re not easily available. It’s not like you can put on the Bruins and see a girl out there playing and say, ‘Hey, I want to be like her.’

“We’re trying to build in that stuff and, so far, we’ve been very lucky. We’ve been successful in reaching out to people. And, we’ve had people reach back.”

At the first open house, Gloucester resident Ben Smith was there along with Julie Sasner to tell young girls about the growth of women’s hockey in the United States and around the world. Smith was the coach and Sasner an assistant for the first U.S. Olympic women’s team when it won gold in the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

After approximately 50 girls heard what Smith and Sasner had to say, Cape Ann wound up with two travel teams for the 2012-13 season and now has 33 girls on three teams this season.

Since hearing about Olympic women’s hockey, the Cape Ann girls have also developed a connection with the Harvard University women, who are ranked among the top NCAA Division I college teams in the country.

“Most like the experience of playing on a girls’ teams and having friends on the teams,” said Amigo, who has a daughter in the program and coaches the Under-12 team. “We try to do a lot of stuff with girls’ teams. We’ll go to see local girls’ college games.”

That led to the attachment to the Crimson program.

“Our colors are crimson and white,” Amigo said. “We wound up with a connection with the Harvard girls’ team. We go to Harvard girls’ games, take the team down, as many girls as want to go.

“A couple of the Harvard girls’ players last year, at the end of the season came up and ran one of our practices. We try to build those role models and connections for our girls to see, ‘There are girls just like you, and you can do whatever you want to do in the game of hockey.’”

The Cape Ann players even got to share a unique experience with the Harvard and Northeastern University women’s teams. The U12 and U14 Cape Ann teams made an intermission appearance at one of the nation’s iconic baseball parks during the game between the two college teams Jan. 2 as part of the Frozen Fenway series of games in Boston.

Those few minutes of fame were a big step for girls, who not long ago Amigo and others had feared were losing their place in the Cape Ann program.

Following the open houses, the association used USA Hockey’s American Development Model and stuck with its commitment to increasing participation by girls.

Now Cape Ann girls are part of the growth in female hockey around the country and in Massachusetts, which ranks second only to Minnesota among the states with the most girls playing.

The U12 team won its division of the Middlesex Yankee Conference Girls’ League last season when the U14 team came in third. Cape Ann moved up to the conference’s Major division for U12 teams this season and a U10 team was added.

Girls from other nearby communities on Massachusetts’ North Shore are now making their way to Gloucester to be part of the Cape Ann program.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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