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Growth of female hockey players not matched in coaching

Women’s hockey has gone from a once-every-four-years thing at the Winter Olympics, culminating in a Canada-U.S. final, to more of a regular feature on the sporting calendar.
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More and more girls, like, from left, Olivia Uzzell McCall, 9, Georgia Lutz, 8, Lyla Swift , 8, and Macy Swift 5, of the Campbell River Hurricanes who were out cheering on Team Canada in 2019 at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, are playing hockey. Now, the province is hoping to increase the number of female coaches. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Women’s hockey has gone from a once-every-four-years thing at the Winter Olympics, culminating in a Canada-U.S. final, to more of a regular feature on the sporting calendar.

The female version of the sport, however, lost a valuable opportunity at exposure this week when the playoffs of the fledgling pro National Women’s Hockey League in Lake Placid, New York — which would have been broadcast on NBC — were cancelled due to the pandemic for the second consecutive year.

But women’s hockey continues to grow despite that setback. Young girls have been inspired by that growth and in turn are fuelling it. The Capital Region Female Minor Hockey Association, whose teams are nicknamed the Reign, was established as the first all-girls’ local league in 2019.

But there is one glaring gap in the broadening of the female game, especially at the youth level. Almost all the girls’ youth teams are coached by men. A lot more girls are playing the game but the coaching ranks haven’t reflected that.

In an effort to rectify that situation, B.C. Hockey will be conducting the We Are Coaches clinic Feb. 12 via Zoom from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. It is a female-coaches only seminar facilitated by female coaches. It will be hosted by player pioneer and former national team assistant coach Nancy Wilson, the first female inducted into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame when she joined Paul Kariya and Mark Recchi in the Class of 2013, and Program of Excellence female coordinator/instructor Whitney Juszkiewicz. The contact is clinics@bchockey.net.

“The growth of the girls game has been one of the good news stories in hockey,” said B.C. Hockey CEO Cam Hope of Victoria.

“The lag has been in female officials and coaches. We need more female coaches moving up the ladder. We are in the early generation of high participation in girls’ and women’s hockey. It might take another generation for women’s coaching participation [to catch up]. We need to get traction.”

Among those bringing the change is Amelia De Melo, assistant coach of the Victoria Reign U-13 C1 girls’ team.

“It’s very important for girls to have female coaches, for the role-model aspect alone,” said De Melo, a 21-year-old Camosun criminology student.

Like most female players of her generation, De Melo came up in youth hockey playing on boys’ teams in the Juan de Fuca organization. So did Canadian national team blue-liner Micah Zandee-Hart with Peninsula boys’ teams.

Rep-level girls later had the female Triple-A Seals and Double-A Royals programs developed for them on the Island, or they joined academy programs, but there was little for house-league female players. Now, girls-only leagues are sprouting across the country for all levels and abilities.

Despite that, De Melo said she still sees mostly males coaching girls in hockey, which is fine, but more of a female presence is also required because it is something to which the players can relate.

“There is nothing wrong with dads coaching. That’s OK. But there’s no harm, in fact there is value, in multiple coaching approaches to girls’ hockey [in terms of gender],” said De Melo.

She added she is witnessing a subtle change but it needs to be accelerated.

“It’s great to see some females, who graduate from playing hockey return to the game as coaches, but more are needed,” said De Melo, who plans to continue in her coaching development.

Hope concurs.

“There are women coaches in the system but we need more,” he said.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com