Megan Grenon stretched out at the rink in front of a rare women’s hockey showcase in Washington, D.C., when a young girl approached with her parents.

“Are you a hockey player? Are you playing today? ” The girl asked.

“Yes,” said Grenon. “Are you here to watch me?”

Grenon plays for Calgary with the Association of Professional Women’s Hockey Players, which has set itself the goal of creating a sustainable professional league in North America after many years without it. Grenon said she would dress number 5 in white that day, and the young girl jumped with excitement.

“You can cheer for me,” Grenon said. “You can cheer for whoever you want.”

Such scenes occur more often across the country as the U.S. women’s team won gold at the 2018 Olympics and became better known for the sport. There will be NHL the hockey playoffs start next week DallasTampa, Nashville, Raleigh and Washington, D.C., where women’s hockey has expanded over the past decade but still lags far behind traditional hotspots such as Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Due to logistical barriers, from a lack of skating rinks and time on the ice to a lack of programs in colleges and universities and the need for more education, raising hockey girls in non-traditional markets remains a challenge. 3177 players under the age of 18 and younger registered in the US Hockey in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, North CarolinaMaryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia combined are still less than in Wisconsin alone.

“It was like a slow build-up,” said Kush Sidhu, director and coach of the college’s under-19 training team, the only top women’s women’s hockey team in Washington. “It’s always hard. I think it’s a struggle, but it’s a good struggle, and we’re happy to do our part. “

NHL Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals are also trying to contribute to increasing participation in these areas – and similar efforts are being made in Arizona and elsewhere throughout the league. The number of girls playing hockey in these states increased by 71.3% from 2011 to 2021.

But raw figures still point to the need for growth. Minnesota reported that nearly 13,000 girls played hockey last year, bringing the total to 28,206 combined with Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Regional manager of women’s hockey in the US Kristen Wright, who for five years has held the position of manager for player development for girls, is proud of the rapid growth of this sport at the youth level in non-traditional markets and believes it could be even better with more exposure and ice.

“The challenges that come with this are role models for women: convincing girls that hockey is for them,” Wright said. “They need to see it. You really need to see that different hockey players have women’s coaches and they train there. And another problem, I would say, in some of these markets is just not so many ice rinks, so now instead of a football field to high school or elementary school, where you learned to run and stuff the ball, well, you need to rink.

Nashville Amateur Hockey Director Kristen Bownes, Tampa Bay Hockey Development Ambassador Kelly Stedman and Carolina Girls and Women Hockey Specialist and Amateur Hockey Specialist Alyssa Gallardi called the lack of ice rinks one of the main obstacles. Last month, while watching the women’s hockey competition at the Washington Capitals training base, Sidhu reiterated those concerns.

“Where do we send new girls or new children who want to play?” Said Sidhu, who has coached girls’ and women’s hockey since the late 1980s and is the director of the Washington Pride program in the District of Columbia. “On every rink we have, we have a very busy time on the ice, so that’s a small problem. If you compare us with other big cities, we are still quite low, infrastructure, skating rinks.

The first step is to get the girls out on the ice, and in many places it starts with a ball or street hockey. The Stars, Capitals and Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup, the Predators reached the final, and the Lightning are the champions holding the champions, and yet the girls can still waver in hockey.

“I’m going to go to school, we’re going to play ball hockey and things like that, and a lot of girls are still so surprised that I actually played,” said Stedman, lightning hockey development ambassador who won two world championships with the U.S. and played in The Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the National Women’s Hockey League, which has since been renamed the Premier Hockey Federation.

“They’ll say,‘ Oh, you played too? The guys played, and you play? ‘ So we’re still at that grassroots level for some of these girls where they don’t even know what women’s hockey is. ”

Hence the need for programs such as Canes Girls Youth Hockey and All Caps All Her, launched by Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals respectively last year.

The Capitals have seen an influx of youth hockey since Alexei Ovechkin became the face of the franchise in 2005 and ushered in an era of success culminating in the organization’s first championship in 2018. While Capitals Vice President of Marketing Amanda Tischler said the “Sheep Effect” is realistically in expanding participation, the team had to go further than the game’s training programs that operated.

“We found out that all these girls wanted to keep playing hockey,” Tischler said. “And there was another age group from 10 to 14, so we recently launched courses for girls who are learning to play for this age group, as well as for adults who are learning to skate and for adults – to play.”

Canes Girls Youth Hockey also provides a pathway to North Carolina where players can go into the development program and play in home leagues or junior levels to stay in the game. There is also a team under 19 that can keep the girls close rather than forcing them to leave the area to go to hockey school.

“It’s great to see that everything goes from almost nothing to the fact that our children come to the sport at the age of 5-6, and now they can stay here until they play hockey in college,” Gallardi said.

The lack of university girls and women’s hockey programs in non-traditional markets is also a problem. Given the lack of one major women’s professional league, such as the WNBA or the National Women’s Football League, colleges provide the most consistent action other than the Olympics every four years and the annual World Cup.

U.S. hockey has launched a national high school tournament to encourage more growth at that level. Wright said college programs are going west to places like Arizona, Colorado and Utah faster than they are moving south, so more players are leaving home to stay on the ice and continue their advance.

Bowness, whose father Rick coaches the Stars, spent time with Coyotes, Lightning, and now Predators and spent a lot of time growing hockey in unconventional locations. While in Tampa, she said there is a university junior team that was supposed to play against the boys, and stressed that overall more girls are in the plans.

“Now I think it’s more like numbers,” Bownes said. “We just need more girls to play in the league.”

Hailey Scarup, who grew up in Rockville, Maryland, and won gold from the U.S. at the 2018 Olympics, knows all about the numerical games. After being the only girl on her team as a child, she is impressed with the options available in the Washington area.

“They are not limited to this opportunity to play hockey for boys,” said Skarupa, who played for Pride and is now the ambassador of the “Capital”. “They can be on their own team with other girls and it’s grown so much.”

The Olympics and events hosted by the Association of Professional Women’s Hockey Players, the Premier Hockey Federation, U.S. Hockey and the NHL, have a place to stimulate growth, and yet Wright said many parts need to be brought together on this front. Now, more than two decades after women’s hockey debuted at the 1998 Olympics, when college programs didn’t even exist, generations of players have returned to the community as role models, and the fruits of their efforts may take years. form.

“Part of the time,” Wright said. “We don’t like to talk about time, but it takes time.”

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