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Top-to-bottom approach helps Buffalo (Minn.) attract girls

01/21/2014, 4:00pm EST
By Tom Robinson - Special to USAHockey.com

Even in Minnesota, ice hockey can seem like a non-traditional athletic option for girls, at times.

The Buffalo Youth Hockey Association has overcome that potential obstacle in recent years by combining the efforts of its adult leaders with making role models of older girls who have come through the program.

Buffalo’s program is flourishing with active groups on the Under-6 and Under-8 level plus traveling teams: one at Under-10, two at Under-12 and joint sponsorship of two Under-14 squads with nearby Delano.

New enrollees keep coming into the program with the help of the third-year One Goal program and the positive influence of girls from the Buffalo High School hockey team, who come back to their former association as mentors.

Buffalo Youth Hockey Association president Stephanie Kohnen said One Goal is an introductory program that consists of six weekly 45-minute sessions in which kids are broken into three groups and taught skating and hockey by USA Hockey-registered coaches. Almost a third of the participants are female, a larger a percentage than the association’s overall membership.

“It just seems that the One Goal is a great program for us,” said John Reynolds, the association’s girls’ director. “I think the One Goal is a great way to get those kids through the door.

“They don’t have to buy equipment. They have equipment provided for them. It’s a really quick and easy way for their daughters to try out a sport that’s a little non-traditional for girls, even here in Minnesota.”

One Goal also helps introduce hockey to the girls’ families, giving them an affordable option to testing interest in the sport.

In addition, youngsters in the community are exposed to Buffalo High School Bison girls’ players as role models. The high school players connect with the youth program as mentors, serving as demonstrators at practice. The association’s U8 and U10 teams take part in “Bison Buddy Night,” where they skate during pregame and are with the high school girls in the locker room as they prepare for a game.

With support from their high school coaches, the Bison players are visible to potential future players each February during “I Love to Read Month.”

“It’s a program where they get hockey-based books through USA Hockey,” Kohnen said. “The girls go into the five elementary schools, wearing their jerseys, and they read books to elementary kids.”

To follow the rules of their governing bodies, Minnesota high school hockey and the USA Hockey-sanctioned youth programs are completely separate for operating purposes.

“We’re two completely different worlds,” Reynolds said. “We have to be careful that our policies don’t commit the high school to certain things. The high school has to make sure that their policies and practices do not infringe on the youth program.”

The partnership and mutual respect are such that it is not a problem.

Once some of the youth association’s U14 players are ready to jump to the high school team, they no longer participate with their youth teams.

“They [the high school girls] have Bison on their sweater. The kids have Bison on their sweater,” Reynolds said. “In fact, a lot of people don’t really understand how separate the two worlds are because we do work so well together. When I talk to parents and they say, ‘Well, why don’t we talk to the high school about this?’ I always have to say that’s a whole separate group of rules.

“They’re not really part of us. They work closely with us, but they’re not really associated on paper.”

Until the girls who are ready move on to the high school level, they have an active schedule in the youth association.

The youngest play informally, where Reynolds said it is more “about cupcakes and sleepovers.” The U6 girls play cross-ice games among themselves and, like the U8 players who play on half the ice, have occasional informal get-togethers with groups from neighboring communities before an end-of-season jamboree.

At the U10 level, the regular-season schedules are about 30 games, up to U14, which is about 40 games, with league play and four in-season tournaments, including one that involves staying overnight on the road. Because girls’ participation varies from association to association around the state, the Buffalo teams on the different age levels participate in leagues and postseason competition through three different Minnesota districts.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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