Only the availability of ice, or a lack of it, has halted the exponential growth of girls’ hockey in Burlington this fall.
The Burlington Girls Hockey Club, hoping to replenish the younger age groups, introduced its Grow the Game initiative this year hoping to spark a resurgence among newcomers to the game.
Last season, 67 kids played in the youngest age groups in BGHC (four- to six-year-olds). After the Sept. 22-24 weekend at Mainway Arena, that number will increase dramatically.
“This year with the Grow The Game initiative we had 250 girls registered,” said Will Short, BGHC first-year president. “We had to cap it at that. We didn’t have enough ice time from the city to expand our program any more.”
The club’s goal is to replenish all of the house league and initiation program girls lost because of the pandemic.
There is some relief in sight, as the refurbished Skyway Arena will begin to hand out some of the valuable ice time starting next spring. Every ice-user organization will get five per cent of its ice allocation back when the southeast Burlington arena reopens.
“We’re hopeful we’ll have that in place next September when we start our ice time over again,” added Short.
Mainway Arena was a busy place all weekend as new players and their parents showed up for one of the eight hours set aside to hand out equipment. All of it was free, supplied by sponsors and donations. There was also no charge for registration and game instruction.
“It’s been fantastic,” said Short. “The (BGHC) board has been doing a lot of great work; Bauer, Al’s Source of Sports and Daredevils Hockey, one of our platinum sponsors of the program, are all here. We had 30 to 40 girls every hour coming through.”
Zoe Noad, 6, was one of the 250 girls lucky enough to sign up and pick up her new equipment on Saturday morning. Mother Liz said Zoe’s older brother Will and some of Zoe’s friends already play the game.
“It’s a nice way to give kids exposure to the game,” Liz said as Zoe took some practice shots with Olumpic and world hockey champion Renata Fast.
The newest Barracudas went from station to station, starting with the handing out of hockey bags and neck guard, working their way through lower body
equipment such as skates, and then a helmet and jersey.
For some of the youngsters, the last stop might have been the best, picking out a new stick with Fast, who is from Burlington. Some of the players are so new to the game that Fast often helped them determine if they were a right- or left-handed shot. A few have never held a hockey stick in their hand before.
Some had the opportunity to earn a quick, private lesson from Fast on shooting at a net.
“When I started, there was nothing like this around,” said Fast, who will be a charter member of the Professional Women’s Hockey League when her Toronto team and five other franchises open the season in January.
“I remember my parents — we didn’t come from a hockey background so they had no idea what equipment was needed for hockey — actually sent me with a neighbour who lived a couple houses down and gave them a credit card and said, ‘Can you get her a set of equipment? We don’t know what she needs.'
She’s especially touched to see families of different backgrounds take advantage of the Grow the Game initiative.
“To think there are 250 girls that are starting the game in Burlington this year is pretty special.”