Lady Coyotes discovering love of the game
By Christopher C. Wuensch
Brittany Johnson first fell in love with the game of hockey at the age of 9. Now the head coach of the AZ Lady Coyotes’ newest and youngest squad, she’s tasked with spreading that joy.
The Lady Coyotes’ dropped the initial puck this summer on its 10U/12U combo house team program designed to teach the basics of the game while instilling a little adoration for life on the ice.
“We want the girls to fall in love and stay in love with the sport,” Johnson said of the fledgling girls’ program.
Lady Coyotes’ 19U coaches Natalie Rossi and Matt Shott round out a staff with its eye on establishing the future of the program with an inaugural group of 17 young players.
“We setting up the foundation for the program going forward,” Johnson said.
That means plenty of long-term development via Team USA’s ABC’s of hockey: agility, balance and coordination. In fact, many of the drills they use are the same run by the Lady Coyotes’ older program. This is aimed to build their strength and acuity on the ice.
That doesn’t mean the 10U/12U ladies won’t have their share of fun.
“The young girls see the game differently,” Johnson said. “We try to promote their creativity at this level.”
The team will play 20 games this season against the AZ Ice Gilbert house teams in addition to 20 practices at Arcadia Ice Rink.
The 10U/12U team will have its share of fans holding signs and cheering wildly at their games, and we’re not talking about the parents. The young program has teamed up with the club’s 19U squad for a “Big Sister” program where younger and older players are paired together. The younger girls will also get to share ice time with the older players and receive some peer mentoring — and even share in the occasional game of “tag” on the ice.
In addition, a few 19U players will join the 10U/12U practices on a rotating basis to give the younger players a chance to work with older girls looking to establish their own futures in the sport.
“The older ones are learning more about hockey skills and gaining hockey sense by (helping) the younger ones, and the younger ones get to have a girl hockey player as a role model to look up to,” Coyotes’ 19U head coach Rossi said. “For us this is an opportunity to grow our organization from one team to two teams as well as girl’s hockey here in Arizona.”
With more opportunities available to women in hockey than ever before, programs such as the Lady Coyotes’ are aimed at providing players with opportunities to play in college and outside of the state, said Johnson.
The players can learn a thing or two from Johnson about traveling for the sport. The head coach began her playing career on the Arizona Selects 12U/14U squad of the former Arizona Girls Youth Hockey Association before the game of hockey took the goalie to further reaches, such as Colorado and the University of Massachusetts-Boston.
Luckily for Johnson and the 10U/12U staff, there’s no shortage of motivation out of the young girls whose age levels run from Squirt to Pee-Wee.
“They want to learn so badly,” said Johnson, who is also an assistant coach for the Coyotes’ 19U team. “They fight over which drills they want to do.”
The enthusiasm is infectious.
“They see the excitement of the younger kids,” Johnson said of the older squad. “They remember why they fell in love with the game.”