Following the completion of Try Hockey for Free Day earlier this month, Michele Amidon couldn’t have been happier. The head of South Suburban Parks and Recreation’s Arapahoe Youth Hockey 8U program in Colorado saw 176 participants take part in the three-session event. Even better, 62 of them were girls, an increase from previous years.
In Western Massachusetts, the Amherst Hockey Association (AHA) held one Try Hockey for Free session less than a month after a Girls Hockey Weekend event in mid-October. A total of 48 girls registered for Try Hockey for Free, with 35 marked as attendees.
Between them, Amherst and Arapahoe combined for a total of over 300 participants, with approximately 40% of them female. While boys and girls are both encouraged to give hockey a try, major efforts are being made by both organizations and others around the country to promote female participation.
“We started our girls’ program probably six years ago, and we recently started our girls’ house program,” explained AHA President Krisztina Filep. “In our area girls coming through those programs are seeing those first girls who are now playing at the U16 level, who are a very successful team. So the [younger] girls have that to look up to.”
Arapahoe had the benefit of receiving help from over 60 volunteers that included Team Colorado, the state’s girls’ Tier I program. The team joined other volunteer families and area schools in assisting young players with getting dressed and playing with them on the ice.
“All of our volunteers were hands-on,” Amidon explained. “We had a whole party room that we set up with all of our equipment, about 50-plus bags and all the skates, pants and helmets.”
Kristin Balboni, AHA’s registrar and assistant girls’ director, signed up her son and daughter for Try Hockey for Free six years ago. Silas, 11, and Estrella, 9, are still playing today. Balboni credits the event for generating a love for the sport in a family that had no hockey background.
“None of us played or were particular hockey fans,” Balboni said. “We loved it, we loved the culture and the organization. The kids have a lot of fun playing. They moved right on to Learn to Skate, Learn to Play, and now here we are six years later still plugging along.”
Filep believes the recent success of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Hockey Team has played a major role in creating enthusiasm among young girls.
“They take center stage,” said Filep, whose son and daughter also took up the sport through Try Hockey for Free. “It’s inspiring for girls to see that.”
Amidon believes pairing beginners with older players is key to the success of Try Hockey for Free, particularly among girls.
“I think the more you can help these other girls see women playing and that they have role models, it’s important,” Amidon said. “That saying, ‘if you can see it, you can be it’ is very true. Anytime you have those female role models on the ice, I think it goes a long way.”
Arapahoe and AHA both mounted aggressive marketing campaigns to spread the word about Try Hockey for Free. Amidon has the benefit of a full-sized communications department at South Suburban, and relied heavily on USA Hockey’s marketing platform to create social media posts, posters, fliers and an updated website.
AHA also used USA Hockey’s materials to send press releases to local newspapers, purchase Facebook ads and contacted schools in the organization’s coverage area. They also ran a used gear sale the day of the event, which is donated by families who have outgrown their equipment.
“We make the entry to hockey very affordable,” Filep explained. “It’s a great fundraiser for us, but it allows people to get the equipment they need to get started.”
Arapahoe’s event was held in the new South Suburban Sports Complex, a three-rink facility that also features two turf fields, two full basketball courts and a restaurant.
“The new hockey families that came in, they saw the energy, they saw older kids playing hockey,” Amidon said. “I think the atmosphere really helped with a positive feel in the building.”
AHA’s event was held at the Mullins Center, home of the defending NCAA Champion University of Massachusetts hockey team. The rink hadn’t been open for public skating until recently. Balboni could feel the enthusiasm of attendees and their families throughout the rink.
“I think just having access to the ice, people really appreciated it,” she said. “They had a good time.”
While girls’ hockey is continuing to grow across the country, Amidon believes there is still more potential for reaching girls and their families. Out of the 239 players in her 8U program, only 21 are female.
“We know that’s something we really need to focus on and change, and give these girls in the local community that opportunity and expose them to a great sport,” Amidon said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.