Womens' minor hockey continues to grow in Newfoundland and Labrador, with about 2,000 players hitting the ice this year and no losses in registration throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tracey Hatcher, chair of womens' hockey with Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador, said the numbers stack up against other jurisdictions and the growth of womens' hockey in this province has been steady for the last decade.
She's seen a push in the last couple of years, too, following the formation of a new HockeyNL council to develop the sport among girls and women in 2018.
"The female council met last weekend to talk about our female provincial tournaments, which we host every year in March, and this year we're looking at at least 80-plus teams," Hatcher said.
"Compare that to 2019 when we had when we had 71 team registered. We're seeing such a consistent growth constantly, year over year in this province."
Hatcher said the key to continuing to grow the sport among women is by breaking down barriers and leaving a good first impression.
She said some programs offer free hockey to women players in one-day and six-week blocks so the players can experience the sport without making any big commitments.
"If we can get them on the ice to try this game with their friends, they will realize they love it. And we've seen that over and over," said Hatcher.
"What we find is once those girls try that program, they register. We get a high uptake in registrants. Once they try it they love it, and of course the focus is on making it fun and the social aspect of hockey as well at the beginner level."
Womens' hockey programs in Newfoundland and Labrador start at the under-seven age group through to 17 years old. Hatcher said a lot of women are also playing recreational hockey as adults, and HockeyNL is looking to partner with some of those teams to offer hockey to women after they age out of the minor hockey system.
Growing the game
Jeff Brown, director of girls' hockey with the Mount Pearl Blades, has two daughters learning the ropes of the game.
Brown's daughters, Reagan, 9, and Andie, 14, both play for the Blades in Mount Pearl and both have played co-ed minor hockey. At the U15 level, Mount Pearl has two womens' teams.
Brown said, in his role, he isn't pushing for girls to only play against other girls.
"I see my role, and other directors, as growing girls' participation in hockey. We have a number of girls playing high-level, co-ed or minor hockey and that's great," he said.
"The girls' teams and the girls' league is a product we want to offer to encourage participation and we have seen that. We've seen more girls get involved just because they're more comfortable, not just on ice with the competition, but off ice as well."
Brown said there has been about a 20 to 30 per cent growth in girls' hockey in the St. John's area over the last four years. He attributes the success to the grass-roots programs being offered by the varying minor hockey organizations, volunteers and Hockey Canada.
As for Reagan and Andie — both fans of Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews — they say they just wanted to play the game with friends. This year is Reagan's third season. Andie is marking her ninth.
"Most of my friends did it, and my sister did it and I wanted to try it out," Reagan said.