The possibilities are now endless for girls who want to compete in the coolest game on the planet. There are plenty of open spots for those braid-sporting warriors starting from youth hockey to high school squads to college rosters and, as of 2016, on one of the four teams in the National Women’s Hockey League. Hockey ain’t just for the boys anymore—the little sisters who grew up shooting pucks in the basement and playing keeper on the pond are now sporting jerseys with their own last names emblazoned across the back.
To be sure, girls hockey is experiencing a boom and hockey moms around the globe are dropping off both brother AND sister at the rink these days. But the sport isn’t for the faint of heart. The practices are demanding and the expectations are tough. The early years come with a lot of falls and more than a few tears. It takes guts to race full speed from blue line to blue line. That hard wall at the end comes fast for a four year old who doesn’t quite have the hang of the hockey stop yet. In the beginning, the crashes are many and the victories are few. But, somewhere during that first year, it all starts to click and the movements become more deliberate and the vinyl material of the hockey pants stay a little dryer than the last time. That kid who used to keep one leg straight while pushing with the other (the “skateboard” move) suddenly makes a tight turn on three millimeters of steel and she is off to the races. And the moment she scores her first goal and the crowd goes wild and she looks into the stands to meet your gaze with a grin on her face and a fist pump in the air…that’s when you know there’s no turning back—you have yourself a hockey chick.
It’s been two years now since my little girl laced up her skates for the first time in our homemade ice rink in the barn in the backyard. And I am thankful for the skills she is learning that can be applied to her future pursuits, both on the ice and off. She is learning how to be a team player, a person who shows up for practices and games and passes the puck as much as she shoots it. She is learning commitment, the kind that comes with being on the ice every Tuesday night and every Sunday morning, regardless of what else is happening in her little world. She is gaining strength and muscle and ambition and drive. But, most of all, she is developing a confidence that will carry her over the awkward pre-teen years and, hopefully, push her through the challenging times of early womanhood. And, if nothing else, learning proper checking technique will come in handy if a teenage boy ever tries to get a little too friendly. Hell hath no fury like a hockey chick with a wooden stick. There are no penalties for cross-checking on first dates.
If I had to narrow my favorite moments as a Mom of a Hockey Chick down to two, it would be an easy choice. The first happened a few weeks ago as my daughter was putting on her gear for a league game. Just as she was pulling up her hockey socks, she noticed another bag under the bench across the room. The bag was sitting under a jersey hanging up on a hook, a jersey much bigger than the one she was just pulling over her shoulder pads. She asked, “Do you think that jersey is for a girl playing out there right now on the big kids team?” There was a high school game going on right before her game so I replied, “Maybe.” Just then, the owner of that jersey came bursting through the door. She looked at us with a huge grin on her face and said, “I just played in my first Varsity game.” We chatted a bit while she was taking off her skates and before we left I asked, “Do you have any advice for my hockey girl?” She looked at my little one and said, “Keep your head up out there and skate hard. And, remember, you are just as tough as those boys…so act like it.” And with a sincere nod of her head, my determined little lady headed out unto the ice and racked up 4 goals that game.
My other favorite moment happened just a few hours ago. The league that my daughter plays in does a tremendous job of putting the kids into incredible situations to learn and grow as players. One of the highlights of every Mini-Mite’s career in the Irish Youth Hockey League is the day that they get to skate out and play an exhibition game between the first and second periods of the Notre Dame home hockey games. The arena is always sold out, the band is always loud, and the crowd always goes wild for the little ones on ice. This was all a pretty intimidating site for my tough girl this afternoon. Two minutes before her team was expected to hit the ice, the stage fright came on with the full force of a freight train. The tears started streaming down that beautiful face behind the cage and, for a moment, I thought we were destined to watch the big moment from the bench. But then she caught a glimpse of Coach Angie, and I knew we had a chance. Coach Angie has been on the ice with her since the first day of the Learn to Play program and has always magically cured her on-ice anxiety with an encouraging word and an invitation to “just come skate with me.” Along with Coach Molly and Coach Jen, these ladies are incredible role models for the young girls starting out in the hockey program and they make it cool to be a hockey chick. Just like hockey isn’t just your brother’s sport anymore…coaching hockey isn’t just for fathers anymore either. With Coach Angie’s help tonight, my girl skated out in front of a crowd of over 4,000 people at Compton Ice Arena and scored a goal on the same ice that Division I athletes were skating on just moments before. It was beyond cool. But do you know what was even cooler? The pure joy and sense of pride emanating from my athlete as she skated off the ice and gave me a big hug after her big moment. I have a feeling that one is going to stay with her for a while.
And that’s why we do it. That’s why we buy sticks for our sons AND our daughters. Those feelings right there. Those moments that push our girls to keep moving and growing and learning. Because life can be tough, but they can be tougher. And the world better fear those who skate like a girl.