Lauren Kimura, 16, is sure that stepping onto the ice this week at South Surrey Arena will be “a blast from the past.”
That’s because the rink where she’s about to help represent British Columbia at the 2009 National Women’s Under-18 Championship is the same place where she first laced up hockey skates and tried out the sport she’s grown to love.
“I just remember being in the dressing room there, and I remember I was just so confused because my dad kind of shoved me into hockey gear,” Kimura said of that fateful day when she joined the local girls’ league as an Atom player. “I was just like ‘uh, why am I here?’ and then I went on (the ice and) … hockey really grew on me.”
Kimura, who also happens to be the only hometown player from the city that’s hosting the five-day tournament, said female hockey has been growing on Surrey, too.She said the National Women’s Under-18 Championship, featuring the best young female players from across the country, is “good for the city and it’s good for hockey.”
Cindy Secord, vice-president of the Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association, agrees having the national championship in Surrey, shortly after Vancouver hosted the Hockey Canada Cup featuring the top four women’s teams in the world and shortly before the city hosts the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, will further open up the province’s eyes to the female game.
She said the women’s hockey on display in B.C. is showing “our minor-aged players what the possibilities are in the sport, and what the steps are to obtain their goals.”
Steve Edlund, co-chair of the 2009 National Women’s Under-18 Championship, added Surrey is “excited to host the event to further capture the hopes and dreams of young girls that want to play hockey.”
Edlund, also president of the Surrey Female Hockey Association, said there are about 150 girls playing on the association’s 11 league teams, called the Falcons, who will be watching this week.
British Columbia certainly isn’t a stranger to elite level women’s hockey. In fact, Salmon Arm hosted two of the first National Women’s Under-18 Championships in 2005, while a handful of Esso Women’s Nationals have also taken place in B.C. communities over the years.
Secord, also a female development committee member with BC Hockey, said female participation in the sport is taking off so fast that registration numbers have almost tripled over the past decade, with about 6,400 signed up last season. She credits that growth to a combination of factors, from the popularity of women’s hockey following its 1998 introduction into the Olympics to the restructuring of female hockey in the province four years ago.
Secord said British Columbia now has under-14, under-16 and under-18 high performance programs for girls, in addition to the six-team B.C. Female Midget AAA League, and more recreational and competitive teams at all levels.
The next goal, she said, is to create female leagues across the province, and having events such as the National Women’s Under-18 Women’s Championship at home is a great way to get more local women and girls interested in lacing up their skates – just as Kimura once did.
British Columbia head coach Pat Thibeault also coaches Kimura on her Midget AAA team, the Vancouver Fusion. He said this year’s national championship will give Kimura a chance to “shine” in front of her own city, and her teammates the opportunity to play at an elite level in their own province. “It’s going to make it extra special,” he said. “I think there’s a sense of pride that Team B.C. will have.”
“I’m only going to get to nationals once, so to have it coincidentally in (my) hometown, where all your friends and family can come watch, is a pretty cool feeling,” Kimura said. “(But) you’ve got to know that your main goal is to be focused on hockey.”