When the puck dropped at the Verdun auditorium Friday night, the only sign that a team of all-girls was about to face off against all-boys was a pink helmet or two and the occasional flash of fuchsia hockey tape.
There is only one girls hockey team in Montreal if you were born in 2007-08, and before the 17 players formed the novice Lac-St-Louis Elites, they could play on a team for their level, mixed with boys—so maybe one or two girls per team.
Now the Elites are playing male novice teams, and holding their own on the ice. They’ve won two out of six games since the season started at the end of November.
“We noticed that a lot of young girls, when they’re put on the boy teams, tend to feel alone. They don’t feel confident taking their own spots. They weren’t getting the most out of hockey,” said assistant coach Rick Springhetti, whose daughter, Olivia, played on a mixed team before the Elites.
He said she was having issues with isolation, and had told him she would quit hockey unless she could play on a girls team.
Olivia wasn’t the only one having trouble integrating. Linda Pizzi said that her daughter, Emma, was having difficulties making friends on a mixed team.
“She wasn’t getting invited to birthday parties. When it’s just girls it changes the whole dynamic. It makes them more comfortable, they really love it,” she said.
George Bousaleh, whose seven-year-old daughter, Leona, begged him to play hockey for the last three years, said he’s not worried about her being hurt playing against the boys. “She’s really tough, and she loves it. It’s her dream.”
Springhetti saw the need for an all-girls team and started making calls. The players come from all the Lac-St-Louis area. Right now, six players are live in Lachine, four come from TMR, two from Chateauguay and Verdun, and also from Saint-Laurent, DDO and LaSalle.
“When they’re having fun and they want to come to the rink they develop a lot better as hockey players,” said Springhetti, who is in his third year assistant coaching. He hasn’t noticed a big difference training boys versus girls as far as skill is concerned, but the environment where the girls are learning makes the difference.
“If you’re timid to try something, you’re not developing. You’re playing it safe and not wanting to make a mistake,” he explained. On an all-girls team, the little hockey players get to come out of their shell and really learn the sport.
They’re having fun, too.
“The girls are really excited,” said Springhetti. “They always want to make play dates and look forward to hanging out together.”
Novice is the youngest level for girls in Montreal, but female teams go all the way to Junior, at 21-years-old. There are 11 girls on this year who can still play novice next year, which is enough to keep the team going, even if there were no new recruits.