With the creation of a tri-state recreational league and other initiatives, the Rangers are playing a big role in opening up opportunities.
In the world of U.S. youth hockey, it is a familiar scenario. A girl drawn to the game can hardly wait to get to the rink. Far from intimidated, she is captivated by hockey’s singular challenges — the skating, the stickwork, the maneuvering in pads. For her, there’s nothing like gliding on an open sheet of ice.
Then, at about 12 years old, there is a turning point. Girls hoping to stick with the sport they’ve come to love, see their opportunities dwindle. With few girls’ teams available, they are often faced with a stark choice — try out for a boys’ team or leave the game behind.
But now, a series of initiatives — including several spearheaded by the Rangers — are confronting these roadblocks and creating all kinds of possibilities, with more girls’ teams catering to players at all levels.
Beginning this fall, the Junior Rangers Girls Hockey League, encompassing 14 rinks across the tri-state area, will provide fresh options for girls between 11 and 14 years old, who might otherwise step away from the sport or are taking it up for the first time.
“A new day,” says Kevin Erlenbach, who in his executive role for USA Hockey oversees efforts to create more diversity and inclusion in amateur hockey. “There was a silent majority that was leaving the sport pretty quickly. But we’re seeing change.”
A Space Of Their Own
Numbers across the country reveal the promise and the challenge. A decade ago, among youth hockey players up to age 8, just 11 percent were girls. That number has risen to 19 percent. But by the time girls reach 14, that number dips back to 12 percent, suggesting a kind of mass exodus.
With the help of grants from the NHL, USA Hockey is equipping more venues with ice dividers that shrink the game into smaller cross-rink spaces and invite more skaters onto the ice at any one time. Girls who had been forced to dress in parking lots or in women’s bathrooms are finally getting their own dressing areas. And the new avenues to play are easing concerns among some parents that competing with boys can ultimately pose an injury risk.
The Junior Rangers Girls Hockey League, led by an all-female staff, is purely recreational and built around the idea that one size does not fit all. It falls into an overall effort by the Rangers to expand the club’s reach into the community. Partnering with the NHL and USA Hockey, the Rangers are also sponsoring a series of one-day Girls Try Hockey For Free events that will give more than 700 girls the chance to give the game a try for the first time.
Rita Mitchell, who runs Skylands Ice World in Stockholm, N.J., where one of the teams will be based, says that girls have begun streaming in to express interest. Mitchell can sound downright evangelical in describing the importance of hockey becoming more inclusive. The pride young players experience as they master a difficult game is irreplaceable, she says.
“When you love hockey, you can’t not be around it,” she says. “People who play become their own tribe, their own family. More girls now will have the chance to be part of the family.”
For more information on how to enroll in the Junior Rangers Girls Hockey League, click on:
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