Women’s hockey is not the most accessible thing in the world right now. Aside from the Olympics, women’s hockey doesn’t get a chance in the spotlight. This presents a problem: how do young girls find role models for their lives in hockey? The Edmonton Girls Hockey Association (EGHA) is looking to solve this problem and called a meeting with the women’s head coaches of NAIT, the University of Alberta, and MacEwan University to help come up with a solution.
“It was a collaboration of everybody asking ‘how can we best do this?’ ” said Deanna Martin, NAIT’s head coach.
On NAIT’s end, the solution has been branded the “Mini-Ooks” and consists of six peewee-level teams (11 and 12-year-olds) getting the chance to have two practices with the Ooks, as well as a chance to attend a women’s game at the NAIT arena. “The goal overall was to improve player and coach development for EGHA and women’s hockey,” said Martin.
“Our intent is to give the girls some role models, give them something to aspire to.” When asked about her role in the program, Martin said her job is “to help those coaches be better coaches.”
The team in rotation this week, the Vipers, is fortunate to have a female coach, unlike the other five teams in the EGHA peewee league. The head coach, Jody Coughlan, played for the Alberta women’s hockey team in the 1991
Canada Winter Games and took home a gold medal. It was her first time ever playing on an all-women’s team.
“I went back to my men’s team and said ‘hey, girls can play!’” Coughlan told
the Nugget after the practice. “I think it was great for the girls to see what they can aspire to be,” Coughlan continued. “You can play
hockey for life.”
Coach Martin also emphasized that this was not a one-way partnership and that the NAIT women’s team gains a lot from the experience as well. She said the players benefit from “that experience of ‘somebody is looking up to me and I can have an impact’ ” Martin described one of the games where the young players asked the NAIT team for some autographs.
“There isn’t anywhere else in their hockey careers where they’re made to feel that popular. Not in women’s hockey.”
“At this point we’re just trying to keep their love for the game,” said Davina McLeod, one of the NAIT players who volunteered that night. When asked if she had a program like this when she was in peewee, she said she did not. “I feel so fortunate to coach them because I never got any real coaching until I was in high school. Seeing the resources they have is really great.”
“I think it’s cool that NAIT does this,” McLeod continued. “It’s a great way to give back and it’s pretty cool to be able to volunteer in hockey because we spend so much of our life dedicated to it.”
The Vipers will have a chance to see the Ooks play later this year and will participate in a shootout during an intermission.
“I just want to see this program continue and this partnership continue,” said Lori Tait, whose daughter Olivia plays for the Vipers. “This is really important to us. Hopefully [our daughter] can benefit from something like this next year.”
Coach Coughlan finished off the interview by saying that how grateful she was. “We’d just like to say thank you to the Ooks, Deanna, and the girls for coming out. It was really fun and an amazing experience. I’m glad that EGHA
and NAIT organized it. We’re really lucky.”
– Claire Stanhope
Photo by Raeleigh Anderson