“Girls building futures, one goal at a time.”
That is the slogan for Girls Hockey Calgary, and this year – by playing host to the inaugural Esso Cup – the future is brighter than ever.
“It is so exciting to be hosting an event such as the Esso Cup and building awareness," says GHC president Don O'Grady. "An event like this provides a great opportunity to get girls out to see the game, and hopefully play the game. Once they see it live, usually they’re hooked.”
Hosting a major national event is nothing new for Calgary, which hosted the 2008 IIHF World Women’s Championship and the 1998 Esso National Women’s Championship, the event that the Esso Cup replaced on the Hockey Canada schedule.
Canada’s National Women’s Team has used Calgary as a home base since the early 1990s, holding a number of camps and events, and Olympic centralization will be in the Alberta city in 2009.
Calgary is also the home of three women’s post-secondary teams – the University of Calgary, Mount Royal College and SAIT are all members of the six-team Alberta Colleges Athletic Association, making for some interesting inter-city match-ups.
The benefits of being a women’s hockey hotbed have helped bolster Girls Hockey Calgary. It has put women's hockey in the spotlight and exposed fans to high-calibre hockey and the association believes this will only boost their registration numbers.
"The more growth and larger the organization gets the more opportunity we can provide for all levels of play," says O'Grady. "We are now up to over 600 players and numbers are important because we can expand divisions."
O'Grady has been involved with the association for the past 13 years, getting involved after his own daughter approached him about playing. Girls Hockey Calgary itself became an association in 1988, going from one team then to now covering the whole range of age groups across the city.
Developing the grassroots of women’s hockey is an important aspect to the association and it is serious about it. Girls Hockey Calgary has started working with communities just outside of the city to create the Rocky Mountain Female Hockey League to create more competitive leagues and allow for even more players to get into the sport at all levels. The association is currently home to 37 teams from Atom to Midget.
The next step for the Girls Hockey Calgary is cultivating knowledgeable coaches and encouraging those who have graduated from their association to share their experiences with the players currently in the system. O'Grady said many of the players have gone onto university, and they can bring a whole new level of coaching expertise to the players.
"We want to have leagues where girls can play at all levels and all levels of competitiveness that fit their skills so they can grow," says O'Grady.
But that isn't all. The association realizes the importance sport can play in children and youth’s lives. O'Grady says many of the players who graduate from the association go on to play senior women's hockey and stay active for the rest of their lives.
While it sees the impact of the elite-level leagues in getting girls to reach their dreams of playing at the university or college level, Girls Hockey Calgary believes the benefits of getting youth involved in sport transcend all skill levels.
"Our mission is to provide a safe environment for girls to reach their goals and objectives,” O’Grady says. “By learning to play hockey, they become better citizens through their experiences. We want these young people to grow and learn in a fun and safe environment. Seeing girls take the experiences they have with us while growing up and translate those into their lives is a pretty neat thing."
Want more information on Girls Hockey Calgary? Check out their website at www.girlshockeycalgary.com.