After a successful first event last year, the Whitehorse Female Hockey Weekend returned to the Canada Games Centre this past weekend with increased numbers and a Hockey Canada coach.
This year’s three-day program, like the inaugural one in 2017, featured a jamboree program with youth girl players between the ages of 5-12. But it also added a program for women hoping to learn new skills from the elite-level coach.
Hockey Canada’s manager of female development Mandi Duhamel was the lead coach for the event in her first trip to the Yukon.
She ran three skills sessions for the women’s division focusing on what they requested to get out of the program.
The Whitehorse Women’s Hockey Association, celebrating their 40th anniversary as a league this year, wanted to have the opportunity to work on their skills, especially for players new to the game.
“The senior ladies had requested aa few things. They wanted to start with skating and moving today with puck work and shooting,” Duhamel said.
Pat Tobler, female hockey co-ordinator for Hockey Yukon, organized the event along with BC Hockey.
Tobler has been leading hockey ice times in Whitehorse for girls twice a week through Hockey Yukon to allow young players who want to try out the game a chance to try in a non-competitive setting.
This was the third year Tobler has been running the girl’s ice time, but this year the ice sessions increased from one to two sessions based on high-interest levels, so they split it into two different groups.
“The unique thing about those ice times is that girls can just come if they want to try hockey for the first time,” Tobler said. “We’ve had really good success. Many of them try that session and sign up for full-time minor hockey so it’s been really good.”
After the success of last year’s jamboree event and the increase in girl’s hockey this season, Tobler said they immediately knew they wanted to host another event with BC Hockey this year.
“Last year’s was our first one that we had in the Yukon I believe ever and it was very successful,” Tobler said. “We had very good numbers and so we were really keen on it happening again and generating some good momentum for girl’s hockey here.”
The focus of the program was to provide ice time for female players and give the young girls a setting where they are playing together and against each other.
“It actually has been a really good year. It all started with the continuation of our girls ice time, we actually had enough enrolment this year to go from one ice time to two ice times a week,” Tobler said.
It was a big year for girl’s hockey in the Yukon with Tobler also organizing a peewee team of young players across the territory to represent at the Bell Capital Cup in Ottawa for Canada 150. A peewee team coached by Tobler also recently returned from a tournament in Richmond, B.C. with a silver medal.
“We need to be creative to find opportunities to get the girls together and go on these trips so that they continue to be interested in girl’s hockey but also see what’s Outside in terms of organized hockey,” he said. “It’s tremendously important. We’ve seen over the years a lot of girls drop out of hockey once they get to the peewee age because
there’s a lot of segregation involved.
“We have to find opportunities for girls to excel and I think we’ve been pretty successful to actually do that this year and I hope to build on that next year. Maybe even do more trips out and maybe host some more events if we can.”
Allie Moore, who is a program co-ordinator with BC Hockey, said numbers at the youth jamboree level were consistent with last year with about 45 young skaters and many returnees. About 25 women between the ages of 14-50 participated in the inaugural women’s event.
Like the peewee teams and the girl’s hockey ice times, Tobler said the weekend had hockey players from all over the territory attend as well as two girls from Skagway and a few athletes from Northern B.C.
Young skaters from Carmacks, Dawson, Watson Lake and Haines Junction made the trip to Whitehorse to wrap up the hockey season.
“I think Pat’s done a really good job,” Moore said of the successful girl’s hockey season in the territory. “You get these communities pretty spread out and it’s nice to see what they’re doing in the Yukon and it’d be ideal to see that in parts of B.C. as well.”
Tobler said the girl’s program will pick up in October and they again plan to have two ice times and will likely have the numbers to do so.
The three-day female hockey weekend started Friday evening with opening ceremonies for the jamboree level and the first of three skills sessions for the women.
On Saturday, the skills sessions for the young players started with Duhamel with a wide range of ages all skating at the same time. Then they were split up into four teams based on age for the jamboree games in the afternoon.
“It was the challenge of making sure it adheres to everybody,” Duhamel said of the combined skills session. “We want them all to achieve something and don’t want it to be too simple.
“We have great coaches and plenty of volunteers who helped in splitting them up according to skill level and age.”
The jamboree games for the youngest teams were played in a cross-ice format in one zone to allow for more contact with the puck and to minimize extensive skating during the hour-long games.
Duhamel said the games were a way to improve on the skills they were taught during the earlier sessions and have fun as a team.
The youngest teams, the Wrestling Leopards and Bad News Bears had lots of fans in the stands, cheering squads on the bench as well as decorated signs to support the teams – with the names they were able to choose themselves.
Her first time in the territory, Duhamel said it was great to see how the sport is growing in the Yukon.
“It’s awesome to find out and just be engulfed in that kind of atmosphere around here and being able to take that back,” she said noting that usually she is behind a desk and organizing programs across the country from one spot.
“This is probably my favourite part of my job,” she said.
Duhamel is also currently an assistant coach for the University of Calgary Dinos women’s hockey team and played with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.
She said it is clear that BC Hockey and Hockey Yukon are investing their time into female programs at an early age which is essential for successful programs as the players get older, such as at the peewee level.
“You want to give them everything, but I don’t have enough time in the world to unload everything that I wish I could, but I think for me the point is that it’s supposed to be fun,” Duhamel said of the jam-packed hockey weekend. “It’s a lot of hockey for these girls so if they’re here it means they love it and let’s just hope it stays that way for the rest of their lives really.
“When you get that chance to show them how much they can push themselves and get out of their comfort zone. They’re having a ton of fun and I hope it stays with them for a long time.”
Moore echoed the sentiment of Duhamel on the importance of having these female-only programs.
“I think girl’s hockey has definitely made a lot of strides but I think it’s really important to just keep the momentum going, keep growing and just keep those girls in the game too,” she said. “I think it’s especially important in the smaller communities.”
She said that in order to fulfil this goal, BC Hockey works to organize a jamboree-style program for young female players in all of the BC Hockey districts – including the Yukon – at least once a year.
The success and impact of the weekend was clear to see on the faces of the young skaters.
When asked by coaches on the bench if they liked playing with just girls, there was an emphatic yes from the young players as they eagerly waited to get back on the ice.