Skills camp capitalizes on female hockey boom

SCOTT UNGER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

Women's hockey has grown so fast in the past decade it's hard to recall a time when ponytails poking out of helmets weren't a regular sight around the rink.

The number of female hockey players registered with Hockey Canada has more than doubled since the 1998-1999 season, when 29,031 girls took to the ice. In 2004-2005, Hockey Canada reported 65,951 girls were blasting slapshots in rinks across the country.

To fill a void, local national team members Sami Jo Small and Jennifer Botterill created the Golden Girls Hockey School six years ago.

"We were doing some clinics in the city and we sort of had the idea to make it into a full week-long camp," Small said yesterday during a break from camp at the Gateway Arena.

"When we initially started there wasn't very many all-girls hockey schools. That's really what I wanted -- to have a place for these girls to see that there are other girls playing. It gives them a chance to make some friends in the summer with maybe girls that play on other teams."

'LEARNING ABOUT LIFE'

The camp goes beyond breakouts and workouts.

"It's important to learn about hockey and it's important to learn the skills," Small said, "but what they get here is learning about life. That's what we are really trying to instill in them -- values that we as people have."

In addition to the 80 girls in the camp, 30 women laced up the skates in the evening.

"We just started (the adult school) three years ago when I had ladies asking if they could join the hockey school," said Small. "The oldest in the hockey school is 17, so I thought maybe (there are) women that work all day that want to play hockey. Maybe their daughters play hockey and they were never allowed to play hockey growing up. It's really an adult beginner hockey school. Most women play once a week recreationally, but never get some coaching. That's what they get out here."

PLAYER DEVELOPMENT

A camp of this nature is crucial to the development of players at the national level. This was illustrated when the Team Canada Olympic team was named and Meghan Agosta cracked the squad. She attended camps that were run by Team Canada members growing up.

Small is more than delighted to give back to local players by putting on the camp.

"We take it on as a responsibility, the four of us that are here, because we enjoy it," said Small, who is joined at the camp by teammates Botterill, Gillian Ferrari and Cherie Piper.

"Growing up we did not have a lot of female role models. That's why I like to have a lot of instructors that have accomplished a lot of things."

So can female hockey keep expanding at a rapid pace?

"Girls grow up with girl's hockey being a reality and being an option for them," Ferrari assessed. "They have their own leagues. Parents don't think it's a place where my daughter is going to get injured.

"Hopefully it could maybe be as big as women's golf or women's tennis. That would be great ... I'd like to see more growth worldwide. There is definitely an opportunity there."


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