Girls are welcome and encouraged to join co-ed teams in the Niagara-on-the-Lake Minor Hockey League, but this year a new program designed just for female players is also enjoying a successful season and proving its worth.
Every Saturday at 12:10 p.m. girls from the novice, atom and peewee divisions take to the ice in the Centennial arena to develop their skills and play some hockey.
The goal, says organizer and coach Brian Beccario, is to promote the game for local girls, give them some extra ice time of their own, and allow them “to own the dressing room” once a week.
“When we started in the program in November we had nine skaters,” he said. “We now have 15. Our hope is to continue the program next year as well.”
There was a time, a few years back, when NOTL minor hockey tried to offer all-girl teams, but the numbers couldn’t sustain them, and now NOTL girls have to choose between co-ed teams locally, or travelling to St. Catharines or Niagara Falls to play, which means the local league is losing them, said Beccario.
He approached minor hockey and asked if he could give this weekly program a try, and it has become an add-on for girls between the ages of nine and 13 who are already on a local team. It is also an option for those who are from Niagara-on-the-Lake but play elsewhere, or those who have chosen to learn the sport through this all-girls program, in some cases because they’re a little intimidated by joining a co-ed team, he said.
Those who are weaker players or just learning become stronger by having good female role models on the ice with them, he said.
They’ve also had three sessions with Kathi Plug, who provides power-skating lessons in St. Catharines for kids aged four and up, including adults. Her on-ice presence offers the girls an opportunity to learn from a strong female skater, former hockey player and another role model, said Beccario.
His daughter Luci, an 11-year-old Crossroads student, loves both playing for her co-ed team and the on-ice girl-time.
It would be difficult for her to choose which she likes better, she said — for now she’s happy she doesn’t have to make that choice. She also appreciates the skills she’s learning, including moving faster — she feels the power skating classes have made her a better hockey player.
She’s also made a new “best friend” from St. Davids, which is another benefit of the program — it’s great for the community when kids from different schools have a change to develop friendships, he said. “I think any ice time is a good thing,” said Beccario. “Opening it up to more skaters can only be good for everybody.”
Although there is a core group of girls who show up regularly, there can be anywhere from eight to all 15 on the ice, with some off to play hockey with their teams Saturday afternoon, said Beccario. He is hoping this year’s success will ensure it continues next fall.
He welcomes girls who want to give the program a try over the next four weeks, and asks them to call for more information at 905-321-2032.