As girls hockey continues to grow in the state of Washington, one organization will be remembered as the first to show it could be done.
The Washington Wild, established in 2002 as the Western Washington Female Hockey Association, is the only all-female hockey organization in the state. The Wild fielded three teams for more than a decade, but in the last two years, the number of teams has grown by 133 percent.
The reasons are twofold: the allocation of more ice time from High Ice Arena in Shoreline, and the initiation of the Wild’s try-hockey-for-free opportunities.
Add the two components together and the association was able to establish the state’s first all-female beginner program in January 2016 with 43 new players.
Four additional beginner sessions were held with the May and September classes encompassing 38 and 25 players, respectively.
This past January, that number increased to 47 players. Shortly thereafter, the Wild added 8U and 10U teams.
“The continuing influx of young players is now propelling the establishment of the first ever all-girl league in Washington [for the start of the 2017-18 season],” said Zoe Harris, who is a board member and also oversees hockey operations.
As a result, four balanced teams will play against each other each week and tiered travel teams will be established to play exhibition games in female tournaments.
“We have witnessed how playing competitive, all-girl hockey in Canada at the older ages rapidly develops players,” Harris said. “We hear from college coaches all the time saying that they want players who are adept at playing the female game well before they reach the collegiate ranks."
“We want to replicate the all-girls game at the younger ages.”
In Harris’s opinion, the growth is due to strong interest in girls hockey because of the game’s pace, which is true at all levels.
“Our association really works hard not to be just another sports organization, but one that empowers girls through hockey,” Harris said. “I think people are looking for sports for their daughters where they can learn the game while simultaneously gaining confidence and strength in all aspects of their lives."
“Hockey does that for players. We strive to prepare our student-athletes on and off the ice for the next level, the work force and as positive members of the community.”
The WWHFA has established a pool of volunteer professionals called the Pro Staff to help players off the ice in areas like conditioning, sports nutrition, sports psychology, well-body image, counseling, podiatry, acupuncture, yoga, college admissions advising and the collegiate women’s ice hockey process.
“We’ve developed an honorary board of leaders in the community who support our mission and act as advisors, counselors and champions of the Washington Wild players, families and board,” Harris said, while also naming people like U.S. Olympians Michelle Picard and Lyndsey Fry.
“Having these types of players, professionals and community role models meet with the Wild student-athletes allows the players to get to know women role models in hockey, academia and the community,” Harris said.
An emphasis on coaching and teaching led the Wild to establish a two-to-one player-coach ratio.
“We bring in as many player-coaches as possible to help on the ice and serve as role models,” Harris said. “Beyond that, we took new approaches to reach out to the community, which are working well."
“When we started the teams, the girls were so excited to play with their friends throughout the season and not just occasionally when a girls team was put together once a year.”
Over the years, the Wild embraced USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“We implemented the ADM at all levels from beginners to our most elite teams,” coaching director Cindy Dayley said. “We believe in the philosophy and have seen first-hand how the model is fun and engaging for the players while it promotes rapid development."
“The small-area stations force players to control the puck in tight spaces, much like game situations and small-area battle drills really teach the physicality required in the sport. The younger players like the constant action and fun of small-area drills while the older players like the high action and battle drills in small spaces [while] going full speed.”
As a result, noted Dayley, players experience more puck touches and learn quickly how to carry, protect and pass the puck in small areas.
“We believe the ADM makes every player an active participant and more aggressive in practice, which transfers to games,” Dayley said.
Besides providing girls a place and opportunity to play hockey, one other element is crucial to the association’s success.
“We emphasize long-term development versus short-term gains,” Harris said. “And we emphasize personal growth through mentorships. We want our girls to develop a passion for and a love of the game that will last a lifetime.”