The growth of girls hockey has the Saanich Braves Minor Hockey Association moving forward with its girls years ahead of schedule.
This year Saanich is icing two girls teams, atom (9-10) and peewee (11-12), and may be adding bantam (13-14) next year.
“The original plan was to start with a skills development program in the first year and then add new teams every year or two, with a goal of having teams in all the divisions from atom to midget (15-16) by 2020,” said Ian Fleetwood, SMHA’s new director of female hockey.
“Prior to August 2014 all we had was a plan, but no players. Then we had 11 girls start playing hockey last season.
It’s a year ahead of schedule for the peewee team and would be two years ahead of schedule for the bantam, Fleetwood said. There are also more girls than ever in the Braves novice age (7-8), a mixed level with the boys, a result he thinks is because they know there’s a girls team waiting for them as they age up.
The lack of infrastructure for girls hockey is strange for Fleetwood, who arrived here from Nova Scotia three years ago. Not only is it well established there, Fleetwood knows of entire leagues and associations dedicated to girls in Ontario.
“When I came here, I just kept hearing that there were no girls who wanted to play hockey, when in fact the problem was really just that there were no teams for them to play on.”
A few girls played on integrated teams with boys, about a dozen sprinkled from atom (four) up to midget (one) and so on, but not enough to make a team. Those girls often end up being the only girl on the team.
“They need to go sit in a different dressing room to get ready and miss out on a lot of the socializing and camaraderie that goes on before and after a hockey game. With all the girls in the same room, they make friends quickly and have a lot more fun. I think they learn the game faster in this environment.”
As healthy as things are at the moment, Fleetwood said there’s still room on the girls teams for new players who want to join this season.
Fleetwood coaches on the ice with, Maegan Thompson, Jennie Tuttle and Phoenix Lawery, all with great hockey knowledge and skills.
The Braves also get help from previous grads, such as Shayla MacDonald and Mickeely Rippin, who graduated from Braves boys teams into the local girls rep team, the South Island Royals.
Players interested in signing up with Saanich Minor Hockey Association can visit saanichminorhockey.com.