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Grandfather of New England Girls’ Hockey Still in the Game

By Mike Scandura - Special to USA Hockey, 10/12/16, 11:00AM MDT

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Carl Gray founded the successful Assabet program in 1972

As part of USA Hockey's 80th Anniversary, we will shine a spotlight on the countless volunteers and instructors who spend time "Behind the Glass" to help our sport grow.

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As president and founder of Assabet Valley Girls Hockey, Carl Gray has been a major contributor to the growth of the sport for over 40 years. But to listen to Gray talk about it, the program has done even more for him.

Assabet Valley, located in Concord, Massachusetts, was founded by Gray in 1972. It has developed more Division I and U.S. Olympic team players than any other all-girls’ programs in the country.

Over the years, Assabet has captured 45 USA Hockey National Championships, been a national runner-up 29 times, won 115 state and regional championships and been a state or regional runner-up 20 times.

USA Hockey is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, and Gray has been helping grow girls hockey for more than half of those years.

Without Gray, the program would not have existed, and as a result hundreds upon hundreds of girls would have been deprived of learning a sport that, for many, has played a vital role in their lives.

Gray is still going strong, albeit a bit more slowly. One-and-a-half years ago, Gray, 78, fell over a pile of hockey sticks and fractured a femur.

“I move around pretty well with a cane,” Gray said. “That’s real life. What has motivated me to continue is that our 8Us, 7Us and 6Us want to participate in the sport. It helped me while I was in the hospital and it has helped me since. It’s been difficult but I get on the bench with the 12s.

“It was a fractured femur where one out of five people get out of a wheelchair. But the girls’ program has motivated me.”

Gray didn’t hesitate when asked what motivated him to start Assabet Valley Girls Hockey.

“I had two boys and two girls and I wanted my two daughters to have the same opportunity in life that my two sons did,” he said. “I decided to start a program and got involved in the ownership of the Valley Sports Arena.

“I had the opportunity to make things happen.”

Previously, Gray started the Concord youth ice program.

“One of my criteria would be if there were girls interested we would create a separate girls’ program,” Gray said. “I said if I am going to be involved I want the opportunity to do this.

“The person I assigned for girls had wanted to go in a different direction and did not want them to play in a boys’ league. I told him what we have to do to get [an all-girls program] going.”        

What Gray did initially was have a flyer inserted in a local newspaper regarding a meeting at the Alcott School.

“Much to my surprise, 34 girls expressed an interest,” Gray said. “The first time I saw them on the ice, some had figure skates. This was fundamental grassroots before anything.”

Those 34 girls comprised two teams during Assabet’s inaugural season.

Currently, 19 teams with 320 girls are involved with the program.

“The girls in this program are treated as equally as boys,” Gray said. “After 44 years in hockey, I’m not going to let something else happen.

“I’m considered the grandfather of New England girls’ hockey in that there are over 200 teams in the New England Girl’s Hockey League.”

Ironically, Gray barely played hockey, even at a young age.

“I wasn’t allowed to play,” he said. “I got run over by a car when I was nine. One leg didn’t grow and was one inch shorter than the other. But I had a love for hockey. That was my first and foremost passion.

“I said I’ll work at in in different ways.”

Finding time to establish Assabet Valley and being involved in the day-to-day operations was noteworthy considering Gray’s profession.

He graduated from Northeastern University in 1963 with a B.S. in electrical engineering and worked at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in Cambridge.

Before he retired, Gray worked on the Apollo and space shuttle programs.        

“I worked on the space shuttle program’s robotic arm,” Gray said.

One reason Assabet continues to grow is that former players have not forgotten their roots.

“You just keep working at it and continue creating an environment,” Gray said. “Some of the previous players are coming back and want to coach, like Allison Wheeler Kennedy, Kelly McManus Souza and Wendy Tatarouns [who played on the 1992 and 1995 U.S. National Women’s Teams].”

Other Assabet alumni of note include U.S. Olympians Cammi Granato, Vicki Movessian, Laurie Baker and U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Cindy Curley.

While Gray has spent the majority of his adult life growing and improving the game of hockey for girls and women, his work has not gone unnoticed:

  • He received the 1978 Women’s College Coaches Joe Burke Award.
  • In 2004, he received the William Thayer Tutt Award “for his selfless dedication to the enhancement of ice hockey at the grassroots level.”
  • He was inducted into the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005.

To this day, Gray still espouses the same philosophy that he formulated back in the 1970s.

“My philosophy is simple but it instills self-confidence,” he said. “I address that issue with every 9- and 10-year old. Once they know what it is, that stays with them the rest of their lives.

“I ask a 9- and 10-year old to put their arm around their mom and dad once a week, look them in the eye and say they love them.

“If they can do that, they will be a great team member.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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