Suburban Ice in Farmington Hills was home to the first all-girls house hockey league in Michigan. The support the rink provided to the growth of the girls' game helped lead a change in that distinction three years ago.
Now girls from the Detroit area have multiple ranks at which to play and many more teams that play on the house level of competition within the Little Caesars Michigan Girls Hockey League.
With other local rinks to compete against, the programs at the Suburban Ice Farmington Hills continue to thrive.
A total of 268 girls and women play hockey in Suburban Ice Farmington Hills programs, with 12 in a girls learn-to-play program, 61 in a women’s beginner league and the rest on various age group teams in between.
Suburban Ice has 10U, 14U and 16U Tier III teams playing under various names; 10U, 12U and 14U teams operating under the name of the Michigan Icebreakers; and a high school club team known as the Wild. It is also the home of the highly regarded HoneyBaked AAA teams that compete on the 12U, 14U, 16U and 19U levels of girls’ hockey.
While the best girls’ players at the rink eventually tend to find spots on the HoneyBaked team, Suburban Ice assistant manager/hockey director Cal McGowan said the rink doesn’t necessarily push that idea for its younger players. Rather, the goal is mostly to help the girls develop an interest in the sport.
“I think we’re talking with younger girls and a lot of non-traditional families, I don’t think they get in with the idea that ‘I’m going to be a HoneyBaked player,’” McGowan said. “But then, as they get in for a year or two, you start to see interest from some girls who take to the sport as more than just casual exercise. Then, they aspire to it.
“I don’t think that’s the draw at the youngest age level.”
The key, according to McGowan, is making the sport fun and attractive before higher-level competition becomes the goal.
“I think it’s our job to provide that atmosphere and cultivate their love for the game to where they could eventually have the chance to play at the higher girls’ levels if they choose to do so later on in their careers,” he said. “Triple-A doesn’t start until 12.”
During the time it featured the state’s only girls’ house league hockey, Suburban Ice Farmington Hills promoted the concepts of no tryouts, no cuts, the chance to play with friends and “no boys.”
The girls learn-to-play program is in its third season and maintains some of those concepts, giving it a distinct appeal to young girls while they decide if they like the sport.
“We used to do it with the boys, but it’s girls-specific now, where they have their own sheet of ice and they wear their pink uniform,” McGowan said. “We have excellent coaches out there and they play ‘Frozen’ music and stuff like that to make it gender-specific for hockey while they are learning their skills and getting used to the ice.”
The girls’ learn-to-play offering is split into two sessions. The first session runs September to December.
“If they want to continue into the second session, from January to March, they can, but if they do not want to and choose to stop after the first session, that’s one way we make it cost-effective,” McGowan said. “It also gives a lot of girls who are playing soccer or other sports in the fall a chance to join in for the second session where we often have a little better numbers.”
With learn-to-play, three levels of girls’ teams at multiple age groups, plus seven girls playing co-ed mites hockey and six older girls playing on boys’ travel teams, McGowan said there are ways to find an appropriate place for every girl to play.
The Suburban Ice girls’ program has found success using different barometers.
The number of participants is healthy and the teams’ results are impressive.
The 10U Suburban Freeze won Suburban Ice Farmington Hills’ first state championship on the house level in 2013. In Little Caesars League play, the 12U Icebreakers team is undefeated on the Tier II level. The 10U Freeze team is in first place in Tier III. The 10U Icebreakers team is in second place in Tier II.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.