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Try Hockey For Free Day a Massive Hit in South Bend, Indiana

By Steve Drumwright, 02/26/24, 2:15PM MST


The Irish Youth Hockey League hosted the event on Notre Dame’s campus and saw 50 girls hit the ice for the first time

The Irish Youth Hockey League hosting a Try Hockey For Free Event. Young girls on the ice pose for a photograph after the event.

Indiana is a basketball state. Much like hockey in Minnesota or football in Texas, basketball is a religion in the Hoosier State.

While that may never change, C.J. Owens is hoping that Indiana starts to be known for hockey — and the girls’ game in particular.

For one day on the campus of Notre Dame, that vision was in full force. On Feb. 24, as a tournament of 60 all-girls’ teams took place, the Irish Youth Hockey League hosted a Try Hockey For Free event at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana. 

Try Hockey For Free is a program supported by USA Hockey and the NHL to attract kids from 4 to 9 years old with little or no experience in the sport.

“Going into it, we knew that there was a void to fill around here with our girls’ program and I just wanted to make it the coolest experience possible for these skaters and really make them feel welcome and get them excited about our sport,” said Owens, a member of the board of directors for the Irish Youth Hockey League and a chief organizer of the Try Hockey For Free event.

Owens knows the potential for hockey is there. South Bend is less than twohours from Chicago and just over three hours from Detroit, both cities boasting rich hockey histories that include being part of the NHL’s Original Six.

The interest in this Try Hockey For Free event was enormous. The IYHL had to cut off registration at 50. For comparison, the IYHL held a co-ed Try Hockey For Free event in the fall with about 30 sign-ups and two dozen attendees split evenly between boys and girls in the same 4-9 age group.

Owens, a 33-year-old father of two boys who play at the 6U and 8U levels of the IYHL, had plenty of volunteers to help the skaters get dressed in their jerseys, lace up their skates and find a stick that suits them before hitting the ice, many for the first time as a hockey player. Some volunteers came from the Culver Academies girls’ team, while others were from Notre Dame— which has a women’s club team — and from the IYHL. 

Owens had help from his wife, Cori, who organized gift bags for all the participants as well as a type of vision board for what future hockey opportunities exist for women, including the U.S. Women’s National Teamand the new Professional Women’s Hockey League.

Owens did the bulk of his work organizing the event. On Saturday, he became mostly a spectator. 

“I didn’t want too much of a male presence out there,” Owens said. “I wanted it to be a girls’ day, so they got out on the ice and just absolutely killed it.”

For Owens, the most gratifying part of the event is always seeing how much new players enjoy being on the ice. 

“I did some socializing, asking parents like, ‘Is this their first time on the ice?’” he said. “There was a lot of people that were totally brand new and watching those girls, the smiles on their faces and how much fun they were having, that was the coolest thing for me because that’s a result of having so many girl role models out there with them and just somebody to look atand say, ‘Wow, that could be me.’”

Owens is hoping some of that talent stays within the IYHL. While there are about 600 players in the program, the IYHL has just two dedicated girls’travel teams — the Shamrocks, with about 15 players, and Junior Shamrocks, with about 10. There are other girls through the program that play alongside boys. With more Try Hockey For Free events, Owens hopes to see those numbers grow.

Owens added, “now the goal is to get to where we can field teams that are very competitive all-girls teams, and they don’t feel like they’re missing out on competitive hockey or development.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc

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