Knighthawks’ 12U girls team shows IHAAZ growth booming
History will be made when an all-girls team is fielded in the IHAAZ for the first time in 18 years of league play.
The Knighthawks will have a 12U team this season and interestingly enough, the girls themselves were the behind the idea to start one.
“They asked if we could make it happen,” said Brent Proud, the president of the Knighthawks. “So myself and a few others came together and formed a team for the girls. These girls have all built long-time friendships playing against each other in tournaments and are extremely excited to now skate together against the boys.”
Inline hockey isn’t new for girls — interest began to rise when the Arizona Inline Hockey Association (AIHA) started in the late 1990s — and the popularity of the sport continues to grow.
Dave Marmorstein, the head coach of the women’s world inline team and the business owner of the Peoria Sportsplex, has seen the rise of that popularity first-hand.
“The girls were influenced in part by older male siblings or fathers who played hockey and introduced inline hockey to their sisters or daughters,” Marmorstein said. “These young female players were given an opportunity to compete at the club level because of the AIHA.”
A women’s division of the AIHA was eventually created and lasted from 2005-08 with teams from Tucson, Scottsdale, Phoenix and Peoria.
“These four teams of pioneering women hockey players created the Arizona women’s inline hockey legacy we enjoy today,” Marmorstein said.
The best female players and coaches in Arizona are now role models and mentors.
“This transition of top female players to role models has influenced a new generation of young women looking to play inline hockey,” Marmorstein said. “No longer is it an older brother or father that motivates the young female player, but an Olympic medalist (Lyndsey Fry) or the captain of our national women’s inline hockey team (Allison Era, pictured), both homegrown in Arizona.”
IHAAZ is benefitting from their influence and Jr. Wildcats president Erik Dahl will tell you as much. A total of 12 of the 70 players in the program’s rec league are girls. Five of them also play travel.
“The Jr. Wildcats have seen a steady increase in the number of girls playing inline hockey,” Dahl said. “The skill level has increased exponentially. We’ve found that when they’re younger, the girls seem to develop their skills faster than the boys their same age.”
While girls do compete against the boys, competitiveness isn’t affected and girls aren’t treated differently than the boys.
“We’ve had girls who, when they started playing, couldn’t make it through a practice without crying because they were more emotional than the boys and had their feelings hurt when someone ran into them or took the puck,” Dahl said. “But not once did I ever hear any boys picking on them or making fun of them. Those girls go on to be some of our toughest players.”
Proud said one of the best parts about coaching the girls is seeing the strides they have made as players over the years.
“Some of these girls, like my daughter and Faith Dababneh, I have had an opportunity to coach for over four years,” Proud said. “There is no better feeling as a coach than seeing the improvement each and every practice and watching these girls grow and improve. Faith is the perfect example of improvement. She never wants to come off the rink and truly loves the game and that love with all the girls carries over for the entire team.”
Dahl doesn’t expect the girls’ love of the game to wear off anytime soon.
“I certainly don’t see the growth of the girls coming to the sport slowing down,” Dahl said. “I do think in the coming years we may have the ability to do more all-girls teams.”
— Brian Lester