Statistics from BC Hockey show fewer girls are signing up to play ice hockey in the Elk Valley, but one local coach is determined to change that.
Jenn Stevens grew up playing for the Fernie Bladerunners and went on to compete in England, and the Czech Republic.
She is now the midget assistant coach and female coordinator of the Elk Valley Minor Hockey Association, and hopes to encourage more female participation in the sport by launching a girls-only hockey team this upcoming season.
“I’ve played hockey all my life and it’s let me travel the world,” said Stevens.
“I just feel like I’ve benefited from playing hockey and having that team atmosphere, and I think little girls should have that involvement as well.”
Elk Valley Wild draws from the Sparwood and Elkford areas with age groups from initiation (4-5 years) to midget (15-17 years).
Stevens hopes to recruit 10-15 girls, aged 8-13, from the wider Elk Valley region to form a team, which will compete against other girls-only sides in Cranbrook, Invermere, Calgary and Lethbridge.
She said there are many benefits to playing on an all-female team.
“You’re more involved in the team instead of being shushed away in some back corner dressing room,” she said.
“You feel like you’re involved and you know what’s going on, you’re not left out. A lot of the girls have very similar skills as well, so you don’t feel like you’re left out in the development as well.”
According to the 2018 BC Hockey Female Hockey Report, female participation in Elk Valley MHA has dropped 21 per cent over the past three years, with only 22 players in the 2017-18 season, compared to 28 in 2015-16 season.
In Fernie, there has been a 38 per cent decrease in female players, from 16 in 2015-16 to 10 in 2017-18.
A survey by BC Hockey found women and girls dropped out of the sport for a variety of reasons, including a lack of ice time and female specific skill development opportunities, issues with co-ed/female dressing rooms, and the stigma attached female hockey players.
“There’s a lot,” admitted Stevens, when asked about the barriers facing women and girls in hockey.
“A lot of guys are sexist and they just think that girls can’t play hockey. I’ll tell you one thing, girls can play hockey.”
Then there are the dressing rooms, which Stevens said are woefully inadequate.
“I coached midget the last two years and we went to a tournament, and I couldn’t believe that the girls were dressing in something that I dressed in when I was a kid,” she said. “I just think wow, I thought we would have gotten past this and we could actually have a dressing room with a shower and toilet, and not be changing in a… little storage room.
“I want people to be aware, girls need equal opportunity.”
Stevens hopes to secure Sparwood ice to provide a central training location for Elk Valley families. She said no prior hockey experience is required, however, players will need full minor hockey equipment.
“We’re encouraging girls, if they’re already playing, to continue to play with their team, as well as have that benefit of partaking in the girls’ side as well,” she said.
Anyone interested in registering for the girls’ team is asked to email Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will confirm the details and cost of the program once numbers are finalized.