The smiles on their faces said it all.
The 180 girls and women who participated in the first Minnesota Wild Girls Hockey Weekend enjoyed their chance to get on the ice, hone their skills, and receive hands-on instruction from some of the sport’s top players. The Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Hockey, Minnesota Whitecaps, Schwan’s and USA Hockey all collaborated to put on the event at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Dec. 16-18.
“It was awesome; it was really awesome,” said Jess Christopherson, who helped lead the clinic portions of the event and is the Wayzata (Minn.) High School girls’ hockey coach. She also serves as Minnesota Hockey’s district associate coach-in-chief for female coach development.
“We’re really blessed to have our NHL team stand behind it and not only open up their venue, but sponsor the event and provide some of these resources for us with staffing and everything else ... That’s how you pull something like this off.”
Three-time U.S. Olympian Natalie Darwitz, former University of Minnesota women’s hockey coach and current Minnesota Whitecaps coach Laura Halldorson, and Kristen Wright, USA Hockey manager of girls’ player development, all participated in the event.
“It was fantastic to see the Wild, Minnesota Hockey, and the Whitecaps come together to celebrate girls’ hockey,” Wright said. “There was an exciting energy surrounding the weekend, and it is always great to see so many girls and women gathered at the Xcel Energy Center to play hockey. Having the Minnesota Whitecaps and all female coaches on the ice during the clinics gave the players positive female role models to look up to.”
Said Christopherson: “Super cool opportunity for those kids to get to play for female coaches. We didn’t have those opportunities 20 years ago.”
Having the Whitecaps, who are a professional women’s hockey team, offer some of their players as instructors made a huge impact on the young skaters and showed them that, if they work hard, playing at a high level is an achievable dream.
“I think it’s awesome for them to come out and see female role models that are in the position that they want to be in, whether that be older players or coaches or Olympians or professional players,” Christopherson said.
Story continues below event video.
The weekend began Friday with Darwitz becoming the first female skater to ever practice with the Wild.
On Saturday, young girls hockey players were able to watch the Wild beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1. The flag bearer for the game was a female, Darwitz announced the traditional “Let’s play hockey” to the crowd and Whitecaps players participated during in-game activities. After the game, fans were able to watch the United States Women’s National Team compete against the Canadian Women’s National Team in the Team USA Champions Series live on the arena’s video board. That night, there were separate clinics for 8U and 10U girls, along with dryland training in the concourse for 10U skaters.
On the final day, 12U girls took part in a clinic, followed by a session for adult women ages 19 and over.
Maple Grove native Natalie Heising, a two-time member of the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team (2016 and 2017) helped with the clinics.
“Giving back to the hockey community here in Minnesota is important to me, because I learned from clinics growing up, so having the opportunity to participate now provides me with the chance to help develop the future generation of girls hockey players; to be part of something bigger than myself,” said Heising. “I enjoy seeing the girls game grow and seeing more girls have the opportunity to participate in an event geared toward both on- and off-ice hockey development.”
Each hour-long clinic implemented USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“That’s the best way you can make a practice work with that many players,” Christopherson said. “Obviously, we want kids moving and not standing around, and we want them touching the puck as much as possible. We divided into six stations and we handled most of the major development categories. We had skating and passing and shooting and agility and we had some competitive battle, small-area games going on in some of the stations. It was really good for them to experience a variety of things, and like I said, they were moving the entire hour. Lots of sweaty faces when they came off the ice, but lots of smiles, too.”
One of the big draws for the players was being able to play at the Xcel Energy Center, which is the home arena for the Wild.
“That’s a serious highlight for any player, including our coaches and everybody else — it’s an amazing venue,” Christopherson said. “Playing with all these other girls in their own age groups, playing with girls from different communities and then being coached by female leaders in their sport and people that have played at a high level is huge.”
Running Girls Hockey Weekend is something Christopherson would love to continue to help the growth of girls’ hockey.
“The goal going forward is obviously to expand and try to offer more opportunities,” Christopherson said. “You’re going to start seeing more and more girls’ events or clinics or camps or education. You’re going to start seeing a lot more of that stuff in Minnesota.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.