Titia Leisz didn’t become hooked on hockey until after she and her husband, Mike, moved to Spokane, Washington, where they became fans of the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs. A native of California, Leisz remembers her first reaction to Mike’s suggestion that she play women’s hockey after they moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” she recalled with a laugh. “I grew up roller skating, so I knew how to skate, but I just didn’t know how to stop.”
But Leisz caught on, and after moving again to Casper in 1993, all three of her children began playing, including her daughter, Kiana. Leisz began coaching girls hockey in 2000, and took over as the Wyoming Amateur Hockey Association director of player development for girls in 2008.
Last March, Leisz attended a Northern Plains District girls high school hockey tournament in Watford City, North Dakota. It was there that she began discussing a Wyoming Girls Hockey Day in Casper with Dick Emahiser, a high performance coach in Minnesota, and Bob Gillen, the Northern Plains District girls director. Out of the 10 girls teams in the Wyoming Amateur Hockey League, Leisz noticed less than half were competitive, while the others consistently lagged behind in skills and talent.
“I felt that the better Wyoming girls teams have more experienced and skilled coaches,” explained Leisz, a Level 4-certified USA Hockey coach. “I also felt that we needed to provide the less skilled teams’ coaches more resources and training. Bob and Dick volunteered to come to Casper if I would organize a Girls Hockey Day event.”
That goal became a reality last month. About 50 girls ages 10 to 19, along with 19 coaches from all over the state, took part in the first Girls Hockey Day and coaching clinic Sept. 15 at Casper Ice Arena. Wyoming is spread out in such a way that players travel longer distances to play than in other states. But the turnout for the event, along with the enthusiasm shown by players and coaches, is a testament to their love of the sport. It also offered an opportunity for girls to get on the ice with players from other teams.
“I think the culture is [based on] big rivalries, but because there are so few players in Wyoming, the girls really need to know there are other girls out there that like to play hockey,” said Leisz. “They’re able to say, ‘Hey, she’s really nice and I got to play with her on a team.’”
After check-in, girls took part in a morning session that focused on skill development. Teams located within two hours of Casper were assigned the earlier session, while teams from longer distances took part in a session later in the morning. After lunch, players were assigned new teams based on age, and went back on the ice for small-area games. All sessions used station-based practices, rotating players through each station.
Players weren’t the only ones who got an education. Gillen and Emahiser conducted a coaching clinic focusing on skills, practice planning, player/coach expectations, being a good role model, and other topics related to coaching effectiveness. Each coach received a handbook and several handouts, and was given a chance to network and ask questions.
“The really positive thing is these coaches got some fresh new ideas, and hopefully will see the fruits of their labor throughout the year,” said Gillen, a USA Hockey Level 5-certified master coach.
Thanks to generous financial support from USA Hockey’s Northern Plains District and Wyoming Amateur Hockey, the event was free for both players and coaches. Everyone was treated to a nutritious meal of roasted turkey and ham, salad, watermelon, tortilla chips and salsa. Leisz enlisted the help of several families to cook and prepare the food. Based on feedback she received after the event, Leisz hopes to make it an annual tradition.
“The girls had a blast,” she said. “They really enjoyed the coaches. Having Bob and Dick, they’re very knowledgeable, and I think they all learned some new skills. The coaches were very impressed.”
Gillen believes girls hockey in Wyoming will continue to grow, especially if girls who graduate from the program return as coaches.
“In the five years that I’ve been involved, we’re starting to see a lot more female coaches within the four states I oversee,” Gillen said. “We’re starting to see more female referees and female administrators. Hopefully, these girls will have a great experience. We want them to go as far as they can if they have an aspiration to keep playing hockey. Hopefully, they will come back and stay in the district or stay in the individual state where they’re from and get involved in their local community.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.