London Devilettes leading charge in women's hockey

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, FREE PRESS SPORTS COLUMNIST

, Last Updated: 11:30 AM ET

Hockey fans have heard about the huge steps taken in the development of women's hockey.

The London Devilettes are the product of those huge steps.

The Devilettes are young, talented and grooming players for both provincial and national teams. Many of these players will use the game to help pay for their university education south of the border.

The Devilettes Intermediate AA girls' team is the showcase team of the Devilettes Girls Hockey Association. They play in the high-profile Provincial Women's Hockey League, a 17-team league with players 21 or younger. The league provides players for national and provincial teams and for the National Women's Hockey League.

The Devilettes sit in second place, just behind Durham and ahead of the Toronto Aeros, one of the best-known women's hockey organizations.

The Devilettes are doing all this with a team in which the oldest player is 18-year-old Ainsley Coon.

"We're quite young but teams are getting younger all the time," said John Young, in his second year as the Devilettes head coach. "Young players coming up have developed a little more skill than the older players. The girls' game is getting strong and really developing.

"We're second right now in league play but actually I'm not surprised. I'm happy but not surprised. I thought we would be strong."

The development of the women's game throughout Canada is obvious. In London, organizations like the Devilettes continue to ice more players, which gives more women opportunities to play and those women are grabbing attention. Later this month, three of them -- Carolyne Prevost, Victoria Germuska and goaltender Amanda Mazzotta -- will attend a tryout camp for the under-18 Ontario team that will compete at the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse.

In turn, when players reach university age many will go the scholarship route.

"A couple are eligible to graduate, but they are still undecided because they are so young," Young said. "Victoria Germuska has already signed to go to RPI (Troy, New York). Dayna Wilson is looking at different colleges. Laura Gibson and Shelby Goldie, one of our goalies, are getting recruited fairly heavily. Even players who are a year or two away from graduating are being contacted."

One of those players is Mazzotta.

"My daughter is getting 15 or 20 letters from schools who have seen her," said Tony Mazzotta, Amanda's father who is also the club's treasurer. "She's not the only one.

"It's very different from boys hockey. The ultimate for them is to play in the OHL and get a big NHL contract. For girls, they look at it as 'I can aspire to play for a national team or provincial team and I can use hockey as a mechanism to get a scholarship to university."

Another key aspects to this team's success is the 10 returning players.

"It's fairly rare to have that many players back," Young said. "There's so much movement allowed on the female side. You can play anywhere. There's no zone restrictions like the boys. You have players who can flip-flop all over the place."

Returning players include Gibson, Wilson and Germuska, Brittany Mulligan, Bailey Player, Maureen Mommersteeg, Kylee McIntosh and Emily Seymour.

There are nine new players, headed by Prevost who last year played on the Ontario under-18 team and Jessica Sorensen, Samantha Curk, Stephanie Robinson and Stacey LeBlanc who moved up from the Devilettes midget AA team.

"This is my fourth year coaching girls' hockey," Young said. "Even in those four years, I think the puck movement's a lot better. It used to be one player could control the game. It just doesn't happen anymore. You have to be able to move the puck. You have to be able to score on the power play. You have to be able to kill penalties.

"The strongest thing in girls' hockey is goaltending. Every team has a goaltender who can win a game for them. We have that kind of good goaltending."

Young says his team is strong defensively.

"We have to make the best of every goal we get. We don't score a lot but we don't give up a lot either," said Young.

The Devilettes play two games this weekend, tonight at Nichols Arena against Aurora before playing a game tomorrow morning in Stoney Creek.


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