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Success of Lady Ducks’ We Play Her Way Initiative Surpassed Anyone’s Expectations

By Steve Drumwright, 03/06/24, 10:45AM MST


After playing growing up playing for the Lady Ducks, Kristi Kehoe returned to run the program

The Lady Duck "We Play Her Way" program smiles for a photograph on the ice.

Kristi Kehoe received a surprising phone call on the third day of enrollment for a new hockey program being put on by the Anaheim Lady Ducks this past fall.

With a hope of attracting 30 or so girls to the We Play Her Way initiative, Kirstie Bender, marketing manager for The Rinks, told Kehoe that registration had to be cut off and a waitlist was needed.

“When she called me, I was like, ‘What do you mean, a waitlist?’” said Kehoe, director of player development for the Lady Ducks. “That to me was awesome. And to me, it was, ‘Oh, this is going to be a thing.’ It’s definitely more than I could imagine for sure.”

The Lady Ducks, a youth hockey organization that began in 1999, had secured 55 girls ranging in age from 5 to 12 for its initial eight-week instructional class called Learn Her Way.

A coach assists a player during the "Learn Her Way" clinic. The player has on a white jersey, black pants and orange socks, while grabbing onto an orange cone.

Learn Her Way teaches girls the basics of hockey. For some, just hitting the ice and skating was initially a challenge.

“I remember the first session we had in the fall; we had a couple of girls that had to use cones or some sort of walker to help themselves get around,” Kehoe said. “It was after the third session that they looked at us and were like, ‘Hey, I'm good.’ They didn't need it. To me, that’s so amazing. We celebrate every moment that we can on the ice.”

While the Lady Ducks have already had plenty to celebrate with a number of players sent to NCAA Division I or Division III programs, We Play Her Way will only amplify the success of the Lady Ducks and the players sent off to colleges.

From that initial group of 55 players, 25 graduated to the second phase of We Play Her Way. Following up on Learn Her Way, which met once a week, Play Her Way has sessions Mondays and Fridays and takes the next step in a hockey education, introducing game scenarios and furthering skill development. From there, Kehoe said the girls will then join one of the 15 teams in the Lady Ducks program.

One of the early backbones of success to We Play Her Way is the support system. Players from the various Lady Ducks teams volunteer their time to help teach the younger ones how to get dressed for practice and be there to provide any other assistance needed. They show up wearing their Lady Ducks jerseys, providing a see-one-be-one inspiration. 

Among those players is goaltender Sami Phelan, who has played at every level of the Lady Ducks program and is set to attend Division I St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, this fall.

“I can't say enough, give enough kudos to our current players in our program because we almost have too many girls volunteering out on the ice,” Kehoe said. “It's like the best problem to have.”

That support extends to the families of Lady Ducks players offering their time to help out with gear distribution for this new program.

“It’s not often that you see people willing to just volunteer and be involved, and that is one of the greatest things about this program,” Kehoe said. “It's really been a great way to get some synergy between our Lady Ducks teams, our players, our families and then bringing that to this program.”

While that grassroots system is important to helping the program grow, the connection of the Lady Ducks to the nine local rinks part of The Rinks Development Program, as well as the connection with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, makes projects such as We Play Her Way a true community effort.

Kehoe has seen that growth first-hand. After growing up in Bakersfield, California, hockey took her to the East Coast. She played collegiately at Northeastern, leading the team in scoring in three of her four seasons. Kehoe then held various coaching jobs — including being a Division III head coach at age 23 and helping China’s team at the 2018 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship. 

After four years as a college assistant at Lindenwood University, including two as associate head coach, Kehoe got a call about taking over the Lady Ducks program.

“When I left here in ’07, you could see the growth happening,” Kehoe said. “To come back 20 years later and see that multiplied by like 1,000 has been amazing.”

Kehoe said the most unique part of the program is the cohesion the Lady Ducks have with the Anaheim Ducks, as well as The Rinks. 

Kehoe concluded, “We're working together to make it the best it can be. We're getting marketing from the Ducks. Ducks players are wanting to come out and be a part of it and help out. That's one of the things that's going to help us continue to grow.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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