Female hockey has been making huge inroads in the Exploits region over the past number of years.
Earlier this month, the Exploits Minor Hockey Association hosted its first female tournament in Grand Falls-Windsor, taking in 14 teams from across the province.
Now, the Botwood Minor Hockey Association has partnered up with Esso and Hockey Canada for a new program that hopes to get even more young women into Canada's game.
It's called the Esso Fun Days program, and it gives females under-20 the opportunity to learn hockey skills in a fun, supportive environment. The six-week program will run out of the Harry Ivany Area in Botwood starting on March 4, and it's open to any female interested in playing hockey in the Central region. The program is free of charge, and will include a jersey for participants.
"The idea came up at a provincial meeting, it was a pilot program (by Hockey Canada) last year, and there were three locations across Canada, one of them was the Goulds," said Michelle Elliott, female director for Botwood's U15 female team. "The program went over really well, and I thought it would be a great way to get the girls out on the ice that wouldn't normally have the opportunity to do so, give them a little experience and see if they actually want to try the game with little cost or obligation to the parents."
They applied for the program, and were accepted. Elliott said as far as she's aware, Botwood is the only place on the island running the program this year.
"We've hosted an Esso Fun Day before, but a couple of hours on the ice is hardly enough to tell whether or not they're really going to enjoy the game, and it doesn't give them a chance to develop skills."
Elliott said she would have liked to get the program up and running earlier in the season so that there would be an opportunity for the girls who wanted to play to join or form a team, but because renovations held the opening of the arena until January, they had to hold off until later in the season.
"Right now we have a great U15 female team in Botwood, and we have almost too many players. There's nowhere for the girls to go after they get too old for the U15 team, unless they play on Grand Falls-Windsor's team, but we'd like to have something for them on a local level," said Elliott.
Elliott said at press time there was 19 females enrolled for the program, but she would like to see 40 or 50 girls join up. She said the aim for the program is to get more teams for Botwood, as well as in surrounding areas, so there will be more teams overall to compete with.
"A few of our U15 girls will be helping out with the program, and if they're not on the ice, they'll hopefully be there to support the girls," said Elliott.
Elliott said one thing to remember for those interested in joining the program is that they need to bring their own equipment. For this program, Elliott recommends borrowing from a friend, and said the timing of the program, Sunday mornings, should make it easier to do so.
"Female hockey has really grown over the past few yeas, when we started we barely had anyone to play," she said. "Now Lewisporte, Twillingate, Grand Falls-Windsor, Deer Lake, Baie Verte, and La Scie all have teams, and we'd like to see this trend continue."
Anyone interested in taking part in the Esso Fun Days program can contact Elliott via telephone at 709-257-3755, or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.