Wisconsin girls celebrated IIHF Girls’ Hockey Weekend in Green Bay with the help of some local role models.
“We wanted to partner with the St. Norbert College women’s team because we wanted to celebrate girls hockey and provide an opportunity for our girls to skate and interact with role models and girls they can aspire to be someday,” said Green Bay Area Youth Hockey Coaching Chairman Andy Bradford. “Coach [Meredith] Roth (from St. Norbert’s) and I organized the event with support from the Green Bay Area Youth Hockey Association as part of its grassroots hockey efforts.
“Girls hockey in the Green Bay area continues to thrive. This 3v3 event consisted of 45 female skaters aged seven to 13 representing seven different youth organizations from all over northeast Wisconsin. We had to cap it at 45 because of logistics. I could have had many more kids there, too.”
Girls were placed on one of six teams along with two to three St. Norbert’s players. Each team played three 15-minute cross-ice games using hard boards to divide the rink into thirds.
“Cross-ice is fun,” said Bradford. “It allows the kids to get tons of touches on the puck. It’s fast-paced. It allows us to have 65-plus players on the ice at one time and for them to be able to participate in some really fun games.
“We didn’t keep score. It wasn’t winners and losers. But the youth skaters and the St. Norbert’s College players were competitive nonetheless.”
Roth, whose Green Knights program is in its fifth year of existence, said her players were ecstatic about the opportunity to turn back the clock and play with girls in an age range that they were in once upon a time.
“Pure joy comes to mind,” said Roth. “You see the smiles on their faces. It’s a little different level for them to have that perspective. It was neat for our players to gravitate toward those little ones.
“They’re skating pretty well and moving the puck. Our players were like little kids out there, too.”
The partnership GBAYH has established with St. Norbert’s College is beneficial for all parties concerned.
“The partnership we’ve established with coach Roth and St. Norbert’s has allowed us to connect and expand women’s hockey,” said Bradford. “We work hard at continuing to grow the game, specifically on the female side.
“It’s paid dividends for us not only in Green Bay but also northeast Wisconsin as a whole. I think it’s important to have NCAA Division III teams and vibrant high school teams that we can point to and partner with to help in the development of the girls game.”
Another factor in the growth of girls hockey in Wisconsin is USA Hockey’s American Development Model, of which Roth is a major proponent.
“I think it’s a matter of being exposed to all parts of the game at an early age,” said Roth. “With the ADM, you’re always learning an in-depth part of the game. With small-ice, you’re closer to the play. You have more touches and develop a more realistic idea of what the game is like.
“The station work is awesome. You’re not doing those long skating drills. You’re able to be exposed to all parts of the game at a younger age, and quite simply, it’s more fun.”
Roth feels this partnership with Green Bay Area Youth Hockey might lead to more girls registering to play hockey.
“That’s the goal,” she said. “A lot of reactions we get are that, ‘We didn’t know girls play hockey,’ but the players on our (college) team have been playing hockey from a very young age. It’s a very good sport to get into for young girls.
“The goal is to grow the numbers and expose girls to the sport. We want them to get to the rink, come to the game and go into our locker room. Of course we’d like to see girls play for St. Norbert’s in the future, too. But you don’t do it for recruiting purposes. You do it to help nurture a sustainable program.”
Roth cited an example of a “sustainable program” that’s been a major factor in the growth of girls hockey in Wisconsin.
“I think the emergence of the [University of Wisconsin] Badgers program has helped, plus the growth at the Division III level,” she said. “You see a lot of growth from the top down.
“The sport is also growing because you have (U.S. Olympians) Brianna Decker, Jessie Vetter and Molly Engstrom. There are a lot of people who have contributed to that growth.”
Events like the one hosted by GBAYH and St. Norbert’s also contribute.
“We did it for the first time last year,” said Gardner. “I had people asking me after that and throughout the season if we were going to do it again. It was an easy sell.
“We offer a lot of development opportunities for girls and have great turnouts. We see first-hand the strength of girls hockey in our area. When girls see hockey played at any level, whether it’s at the Olympics, college, high school or youth levels, they say, ‘I want to do that.’ We want to have a welcoming environment that allows them to experience that.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.