For the love of the game

Female hockey continues to grow in Abbotsford and beyond.

Hailey Maurice participates in a drill during a practice for her Abbotsford Female Hockey Association pee wee rep team at MSA Arena.

Hailey Maurice participates in a drill during a practice for her Abbotsford Female Hockey Association pee wee rep team at MSA Arena.

In 2008, six-year-old Delaney Unger stepped onto the ice for the first time as a hockey player and proceeded to go…pretty much nowhere.

Delaney, like many of her fellow tykes, had barely skated before she strapped on her hockey gear for the first time. Her first few outings were “fun but challenging,” she remembers. But within a couple months, Delaney was feeling more comfortable and her older sister McKenna was starting to reconsider her previous disinterest in hockey.

Fast forward six years and Delaney is blazing around the MSA Arena Ice alongside her teammates on her pee wee rep team. McKenna, meanwhile, is in Kelowna, where she is enrolled at the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy with an eye on a university scholarship.

As Abbotsford and the rest of the puck-playing world celebrate Girls Hockey Weekend over the next few days, stories like that of the Unger family are becoming emblematic of the development of female hockey.

Minor hockey enrolment by boys across Canada has sagged in recent years, but more girls are playing the game than ever before.

Now in its eighth year, the Abbotsford Female Hockey Association (AFHA) ices nine girls teams and around 120 players and the growth of the female game can be seen everywhere from local rinks to national television.

Girls, of course, have been playing hockey for decades. But the emergence of teams exclusively for females has broadened the appeal of the sport, many parents say.

Linda Howe, whose 12-year-old daughter Carli had played on boys teams for three years before joining a girls’ squad last fall, says the female teams have given her child an experience not possible elsewhere.

“The hockey is still good, but she feels she has more friends on her team,” Howe says.

Friends and a vibrant dressing room social life are a constant theme among players  speaking about their love of the game.

Ask Robyn Ellis what she likes about the sport and she mentions playing with friends in the same breath as her love for scoring goals. Likewise, Delaney Unger cites the game’s competitiveness, but also the ability to play with other girls.

Enrolment by girls has grown over the years, but like many associations its size, the AFHA faces an annual challenge to get enough players to form teams at younger ages.

The association’s president, Darcy Forcier, says the organization is looking in a few different directions to grow the player base.

PHOTO: Robyn Ellis, Delaney Unger and Desi Wiens suit up for the AFHA’s pee wee rep team.

The association has received a grant from RBC to host learn-to-skate programs for young girls, and it also encourages players to bring friends out to try hockey.

“We’re hoping…we can appeal to some of the people who are now missing out,” Forcier says.

In any discussion about hockey participation, the cost to play the sport is always the elephant in the room. But Forcier says there are also some misconceptions.

“When you look at competitive soccer or some of the other sports kids are playing, it’s in the same ballpark, it’s not dramatically different,” he says, given that seasons run for six months and can include twice-weekly ice-times.  In the AFHA, fees run from $300 for tykes to $670 for midgets.

The other challenge is skating. Everybody who signs up for, say, soccer knows how to run, while hockey requires skating skills many kids don’t have.

But while previous skating ability is helpful, it’s not required.

Marilyn Nair’s daughter Maya was in Grade 1 the first time she hit the ice.

“She probably fell at least 20 times … but she had the biggest smile on her face,” Nair remembers. “By Christmas, you would never know that she was that beginner skater.”

At last week’s pee wee rep practice, many of the players blazing around the arena had originally found themselves tottering on the ice.

Desi Wiens, for one, had played a lot of sports before giving hockey a try. She too didn’t know how to skate the first year, but today, she plays rep hockey and is enrolled in the Mennonite Education Institute’s hockey academy, along with several other girls.

And the boys are taking notice. A year ago, she says some in her grade though it was weird that a girl would play Canada’s national past time.

Now?

“They’ve kind of accepted that girls can play hockey.”

Just Posted

Satwinder Bains of Abbotsford is the recipient of the 2021 aculty Service Excellence Award from University of the Fraser Valley. (UFV photo)
Satwinder Bains receives UFV Faculty Service Excellence Award

Bains has guided South Asian Studies Institute as director since 2006

The City of Abbotsford has prepared a draft Urban Forest Strategy that is now headed to public consulation.
Draft plan adopted for managing Abbotsford’s urban forests over next 25 years

Urban Forest Strategy now heads to public-consultation process

Country music star Chris Lane stops in Abbotsford next February. (Submitted)
Country music star Chris Lane coming to Abbotsford

Multi-platinum artist bringing ‘Fill Them Boots’ to Abbotsford Centre on Feb. 19, 2022

The Abbotsford International Airshow is back for 2021 with the ‘SkyDrive’ concept.
Abbotsford International Airshow returns for 2021 with ‘SkyDrive’

New format features a drive-in movie type experience, show set for Aug. 6 to 8

The intersection of Blueridge Drive and Blue Jay Street is one of three intersections in Abbotsford approved for traffic lights this year. (Google Street View)
Traffic signals approved at 3 Abbotsford intersections

Projects part of $1.45M in road upgrades around community

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read