With each new minor hockey season, there are more and more females playing alongside their male counterparts or on teams of their own in Canada’s national sport.
It’s odd that it has taken as long as it has in Canada for hockey to see the same amount of female
participation in sports such as soccer and basketball have traditional enjoyed.
Many trace the uprising of female hockey back to 1990 when the Women’s World Hockey Championship was first held in Ottawa.
From there, female hockey garnered more attention from its inclusion in the Olympics (starting in 1998). Canada versus U.S. battles have become must-see events, which have helped grow the game at the highest levels, right down to the grassroots.
Salmon Arm has been a leader in promoting female hockey, having played host to such major events as the U-18 Women’s Nationals as well as numerous provincial competitions.
The city will once again be at the forefront of female hockey as the host of the Esso Women’s Nationals (March 5 to the 10).
“Salmon Arm has always led the way in female hockey,” says Salmon Arm Minor Hockey president,” Darrell Doussept, “and it’s all due to the past administrations. George Rithaler and Dina Vann have taken the female program in Salmon Arm to a level that no other association, except for places like Kelowna and other larger associations, have.”
Female Midget AA star Haili Babakaiff would agree, after having seen the female game grow around her in the last four years. The speedy forward explains how one female team has become three and how that growth continues to feed itself. “Before we just had one team for girls from Grade 8 to 12,” she said. “Now we have two midget teams (and a bantam rep team) and each year we get more and more girls involved.”
Just below Babakaiff level is the female bantam AA team which is in its first year of operation.
Charisse Woods is a member of that club and a player who has participated on both co-ed teams as well as female-only teams. She talked about the difference in the two brands of hockey.
“Girls pass more than guys,’ said the 14-year-old, who is in her sixth year of hockey. “Guys are all about the net. Girls use their teammates more, which is good.”Asked about the difference in physical play, Woods says it hasn’t changed much for her and that being physical in non-hitting hockey just means being more creative.
“In pee wee, I used to get a lot of checking penalties. The guys would run into me and fall down because I was bigger than most of them. Now, in our hockey, because we’re not allowed to hit, you have to do different things.”
Woods’ teammate, Alyssa Blair, also has been in hockey for six years but has only played on all-female teams. She talked about playing rep hockey against the bigger centres in the Okanagan and Thompson regions.
“It’s tough because they have a bigger group to choose from than we do,” she said. “I think, as well, their girls have had more opportunities at ice-time and maybe have played as a unit a little longer.”
Still, despite the tough competition, Salmon Arm female hockey teams find success and continue to improve as does female hockey in general. For evidence of that, take in any minor hockey game and witness, with more regularity, female players lining up beside their male teammates. Or, make plans to take in some of the Esso Women’s Nationals in March and see just how far the female game has come.