This past summer, the New York Rangers strengthened their commitment to girls hockey by creating an initiative geared specifically toward inspiring girls to get on the ice and grow participation in the sport. Known as Junior Rangers Girls Hockey, the program offers middle school-aged girls the opportunity to learn life lessons through skill sessions, games and a league jamboree at the end of the season.
“We decided the girls game needed extra attention,” explained Rick Nadeau, Rangers vice president of fan development and youth hockey programs. “Our hope was if we could apply the same logic and the same strategy we put into growing the game holistically, if we laser focus on the girls programs, we could have the same kind of impact there.”
The inaugural season of the program begins next month with learn-to-play sessions once a week and informal games or controlled scrimmages. Last weekend, the Rangers conducted Try Hockey for Free events at 14 rinks throughout the Tri-State area. Initially, organizers set a goal of 250 girls and eight rinks for the event. Six additional rinks signed up, and over 400 girls took part in the clinics.
The events were held in conjunction with the ninth annual IIHF World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend. Girls ages 11-14 with little or no prior skating experience took part in one-hour clinics designed to introduce them to hockey in a fun, supportive environment.
Using station-based concepts of USA Hockey’s American Development Model, the sessions were led by Olympian Amanda Kessel, along with professional instructors and players from the NWHL. Kessel, who won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team in 2018, was named an official ambassador to the Junior Rangers girls program this past July.
The instructors went over basic skating techniques like stick-handling, getting up and down the ice, stopping and controlling the puck.
“It wasn’t as much teaching as it was having fun,” Kessel explained. “Most of the girls this weekend, it was either their first time skating, or first time with a hockey stick. There were only a few [who] played hockey. It was about getting the girls out there and comfortable standing on skates, getting them to take a few strides.”
Participants were given free rental skates and loaner gear for the clinics, along with a free Rangers hockey stick to take home. Following the event, attendees and their families were treated to a meet-and-greet with the women’s hockey players.
The girls weren’t the only ones who benefited from the experience. Kessel was moved by the enthusiasm of the younger players and their parents.
“Just seeing how many girls came out and how much fun every single girl had [was exciting],” Kessel said. “From everyone I saw, I didn’t see a single girl who didn’t have fun out there. [The parents] were super positive. They were really excited that their daughters were having fun.”
USA Hockey held over 130 similar events across the country, joining with other federations around the world. In the United States, the number of girls hockey players has exploded to more than 82,000 over a 10-year span. Kessel, a Wisconsin native who played on all-boys teams until high school, attributes the growth to aggressive marketing of the sport with events like Try Hockey for Free.
“USA Hockey has done a great job of putting together programs and opportunities for girls to get involved and exposing more people to the sport,” Kessel said. “If they play it, they end up loving it. It’s really cool to see how far women’s hockey has come. Growing up I didn’t have these kinds of opportunities.”
Girls who signed up for the Junior Rangers program from the Try Hockey event will become part of the learn-to-play practices and informal games. All participants will have access to free loaner equipment provided by the club, as well as full and partial scholarships. Kessel will continue to serve as club ambassador throughout the five-month season, appearing at practices and clinics. She’s excited about the impact the program has already made in such a short time.
“It’s awesome to already see what a great start we have,” she said.
Thanks to her and other world-class players, opportunities will continue to be available for even more girls looking to make hockey their passion.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo Credit: Junior Rangers