Paving the way: 3 former N.L. players reminisce about the beginnings of women's hockey at Canada Games
Watching Newfoundland and Labrador's women's hockey team take the ice in for a qualifying game Thursday night at the Canada Winter Games in P.E.I is bringing back a lot of memories for Marion Druken.
Back in 1991, she played forward for the province's first women's hockey team at the Canada Games — also held on P.E.I.
Forming a team back then, says Druken, was a lot harder, as girls playing hockey was still a novelty.
"St. John's women's hockey was really just kind of starting, as well as Mount Pearl and around the province," she said.
"I remember going to a couple of camps and thinking that I was pretty good. And then I saw a lot of talent around the province and I was like, 'wow, it's not just me.'"
This year's team has won two of its three preliminary games and finished second in its group heading into the qualifying game.
But back in 1991, Druken and her teammates lost all of their games that year, and ended the tournament in last place.
Goalies Sandi Noseworthy of St. John's and Kim Stone of Bryant's Cove were part of that team.
Being surrounded by other female hockey players, said Stone, was a great experience in a time when girls had to fight to play hockey.
"I remember when we first got up there [to PEI], ... we went to this talk in an auditorium where it was all the female teams," said Stone. "It was pretty awesome to be in that room and seeing the room was full of all these girls who were doing the same thing."
Among them were a pair of players destined to become household names — Hayley Wickenheiser and Cassie Campbell-Pascal, who would go on to national hockey careers.
Provincially, said Stone, the women's hockey scene back then wasn't big — and less accepting of girls wanting to play hockey. When Stone was told she wasn't able to play at the rink in nearby Harbour Grace, she played at the Bay Roberts arena instead.
"That was something that they were very proud to say that they had all the females, six of the females that were on that first team playing at their rink," she said.
In St. John's, playing hockey wasn't any easier for girls, said Noseworthy, with only four teams in the metro region.
"When I went to the Canada Games in 1991, I'd been playing hockey for less than two years. That's not to say I was some phenom or something, like there literally weren't any other people to go," said Noseworthy, laughing.
"When I was seven, I went to my dad, I went to my gym teacher, I said, 'I want to play hockey' because I had two older brothers. I wanted to play hockey like them. And one of them literally laughed at me. So, I mean, there was nothing."
While her brother Harold Druken, who ended up playing hockey in the NHL, had a "straightforward" path, she said, the experience was different for her.
"My dad had to meet with St. John's minor [hockey] back in those days and say, 'Hey, I have a daughter that wants to play, can she play?' And actually, their first answer was no," said Druken, adding that she ended up playing for the Avalon Celtics.
"Luckily, being in St. John's, you had different organizations that you could approach. So, the hockey world wasn't straightforward for girls. We sort of had to break down barriers in those days to just get a game."
That's why it's great to see the 2023 provincial women's hockey team doing well at the Canada Winter Games, she said.
"We were losing like 10 and nothing, and 15 and nothing," said Druken of their 1991 performance.
"The girls [this year] opened up with two wins and in their third game they lost in overtime. So, they are representing Newfoundland like big time. So, they're rocking it up there."
For Stone, the female hockey teams in 1991 did "groundbreaking" work for today's women's hockey.
"Think back to how hard it was for you to just play. It wasn't a matter of just walking in, pay your money and start playing. We had to go through a process," said Stone.
"Now, as far as I understand, girls can just sign up and play, just like the boys. And that's the way it should be."
The provincial girls' hockey team will compete Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. NT against New Brunswick.