When the Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA) ruled last year that girls who live outside Saskatoon would be excluded from the city’s minor hockey teams, some people thought it was the end of the line for female hockey players in smaller centres across the region.
It turns out these girls are in it to win it.
First-year female hockey teams in the Warman Minor Hockey Association (WMHA) are not only holding their own in league play against boys’ teams in Saskatoon, they’re looking to skate their way to a berth in a provincial championship series.
And they’re having a blast all the while.
The Warman Wildcats Lions wrapped up first place in the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association (SMHA) Pee Wee B division earlier this month and earned a bye into the first round of league playoffs. But they’re putting that extra time off to good use by racking up an impressive trail of wins in the playoff race for the provincial Female Pee Wee A championship. They defeated North East 6-0 and 6-4 in a two-game, total-goals series earlier this month; and are now taking on Turtleford in the northern final series.
The team includes girls from Warman, Martensville, Langham, Hague, Delisle, Dundurn and Asquith.
Wildcats Lions assistant coach Ryley Anderson said the decision by the WMHA to create female-only teams has been a hit with players and parents.
“Last year the SHA made an amendment to close the borders to Saskatoon for all rural female hockey players,” said Anderson. “So about this time last year, a few of us got together and formed a committee. We had meetings with neighbouring minor hockey associations. Everyone agreed the kids needed teams, and the discussion was about which association would take it on.
“In the end, Warman Minor Hockey stepped up and we were able to get a Midget AA team, a Bantam and two Pee Wee teams. We also had an all-girl Initiation and Novice team as well.”
Anderson said the SHA supported the WMHA’s efforts, and the numbers of players in each level was close to expectations.
“Some girls ended up quitting hockey, but other girls actually started hockey because of the change,” said Anderson. “So overall, it worked out. We have girls from at least ten communities playing on female hockey teams in the WMHA.”
Anderson said the program has been so successful that next season, the WMHA will have a Female Bantam AA team as well.
“We were fortunate to have our Bantam AA application approved,” said Anderson. “A lot of communities applied and didn’t get approved.”
Wildcats Lions head coach Todd Lacoursiere said team-building was a priority in the early part of the season, and it’s paid off.
“Only a handful of the girls knew each other,” said Lacoursiere. “Some of them had played spring hockey together, but other than that, they were all strangers to each other.
“I was very adamant that the girls get to know each other. We laid down the rules: no cliques, no phones in the dressing room. We didn’t want any Martensville-Warman rivalries or things like that. We encouraged the girls to sit beside someone they didn’t know and talk to them. We didn’t want the girls from the smaller communities to feel isolated.”
Lacoursiere said that also early in the year, the girls came up with words to describe their team. Coach Ryley Anderson took those words and put them into sentences that illustrate the team’s heart. The cardboard poster accompanies the team to each game and tournament, and each player touches it with her glove as a reminder before she skates out onto the ice.
In November, 2018, the team participated in the Hayley Wickenheiser Hockey Festival in Calgary, where they ended up losing a heartbreaker in the A final game.
“That was the only game all year we lost to an all-female team,” said Lacoursiere. “The really cool thing was that at that tournament, the girls had their pictures taken with the real Stanley Cup, the one that’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame, in their dressing room. That was an experience they’ll never forget.”
Lacoursiere said coaching girls is “completely different” than boys. While the boys may be stronger and have better stickhandling skills, the girls are more focused.
“When it comes to practices, they are attentive, they listen and they follow directions,” he said. “They’re very attentive to details. They don’t get distracted easily.
“As a coach, you have to be careful how you explain things, because they’ll take it literally.”
Laoursiere said the girls put tremendous effort into each and every practice and game.
“They’ve come together as a team really well, and they give it all they’ve got. I’m very impressed with all of them.”