Hockey growth in desert booming at girls, women’s levels
There is no mistaking the strides that women’s hockey has made the past few years in Arizona.
Last year marked the inaugural season of the Arizona State University women’s team and this year, Grand Canyon University joined their ranks. For the first time in history, there were two collegiate women’s hockey programs in the state.
The coaches for both teams, Lindsey Ellis (ASU) and Natalie Rossi (GCU), are women. However, for many of the girls who make up each team’s roster, women coaches have been rare.
“When I was younger, I played in Staten Island and I only knew one other girl who played hockey,” said Rossi (pictured above). “Then I started playing in New Jersey for a girls organization and we still only had like two teams, but then I went to my first tournament. There were what felt like eight billion girls running around and it was just the most amazing experience to see other people like me. They were playing hockey – females playing hockey and having the same experience as me.”
In Rossi’s opinion, women’s hockey in Arizona is currently at the state that it was almost 20 years ago in New Jersey.
In Arizona, where the blazing temperatures and cactus contrast sharply with the cool ice inside rinks, it’s no surprise that it has taken a while for women’s hockey to gain momentum and start to grow. But now that it’s started, director of amateur hockey development Matt Shott and the Arizona Coyotes are making sure it doesn’t stop anytime soon.
When Rossi saw the opportunity to have more female hockey coaches helping out with local hockey, she approached Shott and he immediately made the possibility a reality. Thanks to the support and funding from the Coyotes, six females and four males from GCU, along with a few girls from ASU, were given the opportunity to take part in a USA Hockey Level One certification class.
Through age-specific modules and Safe Sport training, each player is now able to be an assistant coach on the higher-up teams and help coach all around different age groups.
This means that some local players are getting the chance to give back to the systems that gave rise to their careers.
Whether it’s because of her Twitter antics or performance on the ice, ASU goalie Jordan Nash-Boulden is arguably one of the most popular current Arizona women’s hockey players. She’s also one of the young women who got to be a part of this new initiative.
“It’s really special for me and personally, it’s always been very important that I try to give back to the game and the community and this gives me the opportunity to do both through the game I love,” Nash-Boulden said. “They really emphasized that we’re trying to teach ‘hockey for life’ and no doubt you can see that some of these kids after their first skate are going to be hooked for sure in the same way that I was. That’s what really makes this worth it.”
In April, the Coyotes, with Chandler native Lyndsey Fry leading the way, are launching their biggest women’s hockey initiative yet. The Small Frys program, an all-girls learn to play youth hockey program that was a huge success last year, is being expanded.
This time around, four times as many girls will sign up for the initiation program where the biggest goal is to get more girls involved in hockey. Girls ranging in age from 7-12 will participate in three stages where they will be introduced to basic hockey skills, game play with body contact, and small-area games.
“Our main goal with the program is really just to get more girls into hockey and excited about playing hockey,” said Fry. “I felt honored to be chosen by the Coyotes to spearhead this program,” Fry said. “It’s just, such a cool opportunity. Not only for myself but for the Coyotes to spearhead something like this for girls hockey. Hopefully we can do it really well and set the precedent. Just help grow the girls game nationally, not just here in Arizona.”
— Taylor Sedona Clark
(Jan. 30, 2018)