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Giving girls a rink of their own

By stressing both the fun and fundamentals of the game, Samantha Holmes-Domagala is helping young girls fall in love with hockey, earning her BFL Female Coach of the Year honours

Wendy Graves
May 15, 2020

“I love watching [players] improve. I love watching them learn a new skill. But most of all I just love watching them become passionate and love the game.”

That’s Samantha Holmes-Domagala on why she loves coaching.

It also explains what makes her the BFL Female Coach of the Year (Community).

Holmes-Domagala is the head coach of the Calgary Jr. Inferno U9 team and the director of coaching (Timbits U7, U9, U11) for Girls Hockey Calgary (GHC). She’s as passionate about skill development as she is the fun aspects of hockey. She understands that at the grassroots, the focus needs to be on fundamentals and fostering a love of the game.

“I’ve always been one to give back to the game, and I feel that’s the least I can do,” she says. “Hockey is my passion. It always will be. There’s a piece of me that always wants more hockey, whether that’s playing or coaching. I love watching the girls fall in love with the game that I love, and creating an environment where they can fall in love with it.”

Holmes-Domagala’s hockey journey took her from her home in Mississauga, Ont., to Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, N.H., and four years with the University of New Hampshire before she got a taste of the pro game with Brampton in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL).

She headed west in 2002 to join the Calgary Oval X-Treme of the Western Women’s Hockey League (WWHL), winning gold at the Esso Women’s Nationals in 2003, and helped found the Strathmore Rockies, who played three seasons in the WWHL from 2008-11.

Holmes-Domagala also gained international experience, playing 10 games with Canada’s National Women’s Team and winning gold medals at the 4 Nations Cup in 2000 and 2004.

She got involved with coaching once her older daughter, Dyllan, 7, started playing the game. Her experience in, passion for and dedication to the women’s game is evident to everyone around her.

Jody Forbes is a director of Hockey Calgary and the past president of GHC. She watched Holmes-Domagala with her team this year. “I thought to myself how lucky those girls are that they’re going to have a coach like Samm most of their lives. It’s different for young girls to see females in leadership roles in their own sport. It means so much to them.”

Girls’ hockey is still a male-dominated culture at the leadership level, Forbes says. Holmes-Domagala is changing that. She oversees 100 coaches as GHC’s coaching director. “Having her in a leadership role with her background and passion for female hockey has been amazing,” says Forbes. “It’s amazing for the young girls to see but also for our coaches to see a strong female with that hockey knowledge.”

Holmes-Domagala works tirelessly promoting women’s hockey and ensuring every player has the right start. This past season, she developed and ran two new programs.

First Strides is an introductory program. Girls were often intimidated by the community-based programs – they would come to a rink excited to try hockey but leave uninterested after walking into a dressing room full of boys and onto ice filled with dads. Holmes-Domagala designed the program to be fun but also provide the foundation for the girls to transition into the Jr. Inferno program with confidence and the basic skill set to be successful. Forty-six girls – including her younger daughter, Avery – registered.

The Skills Sequence Program is a coach-development program. Holmes-Domagala designed it to promote consistency in GHC’s coaching delivery and delivered it to more than 50 teams in Calgary. Her coaches now do it with their players for six to 10 minutes every practice. “Our volunteers were spending hours online looking for skills,” she says. “We can help them so that, in turn, they can help the kids.”

As a coach, Holmes-Domagala personalizes her approach for each child. “I feel a really big component of building passion is finding out what kids like.” She was the kid you had to chase off the ice after practice. Not every kid loves the rink for the same reason, and that’s OK. “On my team, I had kids who wanted to do stick-handling challenges in the middle of winter, but I also had kids who just wanted to come out because they like the dressing room or the pink tape on their stick.

“I really learned coaching Timbits that I needed to wear a costume on the ice for Halloween.” As far out of her comfort zone as dressing in a one-piece unicorn suit is, it helped her connect with her players.

Nicole Walker has seen that firsthand. Her older daughter, Katherine, 7, played for Holmes-Domagala’s U9 team this year; her younger daughter, Lillian, 5, enrolled in First Strides.

“She knows how to talk to the kids; she knows how to engage them,” says Walker. “She takes time out of what they’re doing to ask them about not only how they just did their drill – how to improve or to give them a high-five – but also about what’s happening at school.”

The coach is committed to growing athletes the right way. The focus is not on the scoreboard. “We did a lot about being a good teammates and what does that mean. A lot of the girls didn’t know when they won or lost,” she says. “We based our performance on how we felt, which is what we could control – how hard did we work, did we support our teammates, did we hustle and were we responsible on the ice.”

In all her roles, she wants to set girls up for success. “I want to give our young female athletes an opportunity to excel,” she says. That means offering direction to girls who eat, sleep and breath hockey, and it means helping those happy to play twice a week sharpen their skills.

And it means creating mentorship opportunities in the form of a Buddy Team. Her U9 players would attend a local U13 team’s games and practices; the older girls then served as coaching assistants for them, tying skates, picking up pucks and demonstrating drills.

In just three years, Holmes-Domagala has already changed the culture within GHC and laid the groundwork for player development – on and off the ice – for the future.

“I’m excited to see what she’s going to do with the game in Calgary over the next 10 years,” says Forbes. “I think she’s going to be leading it for sure.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

[email protected] 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

[email protected]

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

[email protected]

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