Although the women’s hockey program here saw a slight drop in registrations this season, organizers said what hasn’t decreased is the quality of play on the ice.
In fact, despite the program dwindling to about 40 players, comprised of one team in each of the PeeWee (under 13), Bantam/Midget/Juvenile (under 19) and ladies’ divisions, league president Jim Ash said the quality of play has improved dramatically since the program’s inception four years ago.
“We have lost eight girls from last year, with some going off to university and some of the younger ones finding other things to do, but we’ve also added some new girls,” noted Ash, who has been part of the women’s league since its beginning.
“[But] we started [the program] with girls who had never skated before in all levels, and at this point, the skating has improved and now we have fantastic games” he enthused.
Ash alluded to the one-hour Saturday evening practice times the girls are allotted each week (under the direction of coach Stuart McIvor) as being instrumental in improving their skills.
And the local teams already have confirmed exhibition games throughout the year with squads from International Falls and Kenora.
“The practice time makes a world of difference because you watch them now and it dawns on you where they were before and where they are now,” Ash said.
“They’re improving all the time, and it’s great to see how much fun they’re having.”
McIvor, who coaches both the PeeWee and under-19 squad, said he has witnessed a dramatic improvement in the talent level of all three teams—particularly the Midget one, which will see its first game action here Nov. 15 against the International Falls Broncos.
In fact, McIvor expects the matchup between the two programs, both still admittedly in the early stages of development, as being a competitive one.
“The game should be fairly close. They have good skaters who have played the game for a few years, and we also have some very good skaters,” he noted.
McIvor said his team’s strengths include the goaltending of Heather Ash and the skating of Andrea Lafleur, Heather Evans, and Erin McIvor (who also plays with the boys’ Midget house league team).
“We have competent skaters and other players who have a background in other sports,” noted McIvor, in his fourth season coaching women’s hockey here.
“We’ve improved so much since four years ago. Our skating has improved so much," he added. "I’m quite satisfied with our progress.”
Part of that success, said McIvor, is the fact the coaches have adhered to keeping the program a teaching one, where the development of the players is the foremost concern—even in the midst of game situations.
“We like to de-emphasize the competitive aspect of the game and let the players learn from the experiences,” he added.
In the meantime, Ash said he would like to see more girls on the ice to help bolster the program’s credibility. In fact, he stressed it’s still not too late for girls still interested in playing hockey this year to register.
“Hopefully, we can still get some more girls interested enough to come out to play,” he said, adding they will accept late registrations until Dec. 1.
Cost for the season is $160.
Ash noted they tried to heighten the sport’s exposure for this season by targeting younger players to get involved in the sport by advertising through the newspaper, radio, and in local schools.
“We wanted to let the kids know we were out there because that’s where the future of the sports lies," he stressed. "The younger kids are the ones who are going to keep the sport strong.”
Those interested in registering for women’s hockey can contact Jim or Dawn Ash at 274-9620.