Trina Radcliffe uses one word to describe this year’s Esso Cup in Regina, Sask.: “unbelievable.”
Radcliffe, the manager of female development for Hockey Canada, is clearly excited about the future of female hockey in Canada.
“It’s only our second year and teams across the country are realizing that this is a great tournament that they should be striving for,” she said of Canada’s National Female Midget Championship.
Radcliffe is pleased with the competitive games and the huge fan support. But it is the development programs at the 2010 Esso Cup that have exceeded her expectations.
Hockey Canada has a long list of development activities that normally run at an event. Host committees can select activities that best fit their facilities and their communities, to help get as many people out as possible. According to Radcliffe, the host committee has done a great job of adopting a particular development program that has students coming into the rink and female hockey players going into Regina’s schools.
“They brought in students, set up stations, talked to students about hockey, fit in public skating,” Radcliffe said of the activities organized by the 2010 Esso Cup host committee. “The students made posters to support the visiting teams. When both teams have schools cheering for them, it creates that energetic atmosphere.”
The other side of the program is when the teams visit schools in the community. The players want to promote the importance of living a healthy, active lifestyle. They talk about how the teams prepare for a championship, from the meals they eat to the demanding physical training, as well as what opportunities they’re pursuing both inside and outside of hockey.
Allison Chute and Rebecca Laganiere of the Remparts du Richelieu, the team representing Quebec at the national championship, see the importance of the school programs for the students that they visit, but also for themselves as players.
“We felt like professionals,” Laganiere said with a big smile. “The students were showing their pride. I really felt special. It was an amazing feeling.”
“I didn’t even realize they were coming (to cheer us on at the rink) until the day we had our first game,” she said.
The team went shopping to buy gifts for the students as a way of thanking them for the support. The players see themselves as role models and want to help out in the community to encourage young people to get involved in sports such as hockey.
“It opens up new opportunities. If the students don’t get involved and try something new, then they’ll never know what they might like,” Chute said.
Laganiere, Chute and their Richelieu teammates had fun getting out in the community. The experience was memorable and rewarding, they said.
Many students that participated in the schools program were not only watching their first female hockey game, they were watching their very first hockey game. That is a huge step forward for hockey female hockey, Radcliffe said.
Interest in female hockey is increasing, as demonstrated by the Esso Cup. Young female players will aspire to represent their town or their province in a national championship.
Radcliffe has message for all young players who want to get to the highest level: “Work on the basic skills of skating, passing and shooting.”
If the skills on display of this year’s tournament are an indicator of the level of the sport across Canada, the future of female hockey is very bright indeed.