Lady Coyotes seeing growth and development, gaining prestige
The Arizona Lady Coyotes grew from an idea on a plane ride home to an organization recognized by USA Hockey.
Lady Coyotes founder Sarah Dennee was on her way home from a USA Hockey National Tournament in March 2013 when her daughter, Emily, was playing 16U hockey. It was born out of hopes for an all-female association after many girls had to go out of state to get the development they hoped for.
The Lady Coyotes are the only sanctioned all-girls’ hockey association in Arizona.
“As a parent, I did not want my daughter to have to leave the state to not only play the game that she had grown to love, but to also continue to strive towards the goal of playing at the collegiate level,” Dennee said.
Dennee, also the Lady Coyotes’ president, owner, general manager and treasurer, said girls on co-ed teams can be and are successful, but it’s a different experience than playing on a female team.
“When they play on a female team, they aren’t ‘the girl’ playing on a boys team – they are in fact, just another hockey player,” Dennee said. “They all experience the same level of team fulfillment, they are one of the team in whole. They are treated the same in all aspects as their fellow teammates. They are allowed the complete and total experience – the locker room, the skills development, the friendship and team support.”
David Daniele, who will become the Lady Coyotes’ vice president at an upcoming board meeting, said having all-female hockey is amazing.
“I think it’s huge,” Daniele said. “I think it would be great if the sport keeps growing here to have more female hockey teams, because right now, the only time my girls get to play against other girls is in a tournament, except that requires travel.”
The Lady Coyotes have grown from eight girls trying out the first year to over 45. That first season, they had hoped to have a 16U team, but instead had to have a 19U team with a short bench, with girls ranging in age from 13 to 18.
Now, they have 12U, 14U, 16U and 19U teams at A and AA levels.
“Knowing that to make the association successful, I would need help from the rest of the hockey community, I turned to the other associations in the Valley as well as the state board for support and guidance,” Dennee said. “The following year, we had our 19U team as well as a 12U team. To grow, we needed to really focus on the younger players and create an atmosphere where the younger girls wanted to join us and hopefully stay with the association.”
Bigs and littles
The need to have younger players feel welcome and stay led to one of the Lady Coyotes’ innovations: the Big Sister/Little Sister program.
“The younger players needed role models for them to look up to and we wanted to give our older players the opportunity to fulfill a leadership role,” Dennee said. “As far as I know, we are the only program that has anything like that in place. It has been very successful.”
Daniele said the program has been nothing short of extremely positive.
“They’re both on the ice so they can help each other out,” Daniele said. “The big sisters put together a packet of goalie charts and such for the little sisters, those kinds of things, so that’s really positive.”
Camps and skating
The Lady Coyotes aren’t just limited to fielding teams.
They also hold camps, like with USA Hockey women’s national team player and Chandler native Lyndsey Fry.
“They run a lot of camps,” Daniele said. “Lyndsey Fry I know has run a couple for us.”
Fry played for the 2014 United States Olympic team, the Chandler Jr. Polar Bears, the Arizona Selects and for Harvard University.
The Lady Coyotes also have Girls Skill Skates throughout Arizona each month for ages 5 to 19.
“We are open to have females join us for the skills clinics even if they play for another association and currently do have players skating with us for the skills clinics that do not skate with our association full time,” said Dennee. “We believe in the development of female players, period, regardless of where they play.”
On to the next one
Now that the Lady Coyotes are a few years old, a couple of their players have either moved on to college hockey or committed to play there.
In early January, Arizona State University announced that Lady Coyotes 19U captain Megan Mroczek will play for the Sun Devils next season. Mroczek lives in Gilbert, being originally from Arlington Heights, Ill.
“It is an incredible honor to have girls from our program obtain their dream of playing college hockey and we couldn’t be more proud of their hard work and dedication,” Dennee said.
The Lady Coyotes’ first collegiate player was Emily Dennee, who joined Becker College’s inaugural NCAA team this season. As of Jan. 8, the freshman defenseman has played in 10 of the Hawks’ 12 games.
Sarah was proud to say that Emily had the highest GPA on the team (3.815).
Becker is located in Leicester, Mass.
Sarah Dennee said Emily wouldn’t change a thing about her freshman season — other than get a few more wins for the new program.
“Emily’s first season at college couldn’t be better,” Dennee said. “She is having a ton of fun with her teammates and has a tremendous amount of respect for both the head and the assistant coach.”
On the rise
Dennee hopes to have a developmental team at each age division along with their traveling teams.
“I think Sarah in particular does a really good job try to promote female hockey in Arizona, which isn’t what you’d say is a traditional market by any means,” Daniele said.
The Lady Coyotess have not gone unnoticed.
On Dec. 17, the Arizona Coyotes held Girls Hockey Appreciation Night. Some Lady Coyotes players got to serve as benchwarmers during the NHL Coyotes’ warmups and stood on the blue line with the professional players during the national anthem.
During one of the intermissions, some of the Lady Coyotes played in the Mite on-ice game.
“All of the girls were very excited to participate and it went very well,” Dennee said. “In the past, it was just our association, but by including all of the female hockey players from our state, it created more awareness and a bigger turnout.”
Daniele added that female hockey is growing in the Valley, with the Arizona Coyotes promoting it and Fry and four-time hockey Olympian Julie Chu helping develop the game locally.
“I think it’s starting to really grow,” Daniele said. “I think there’s some positive signs. There’s a lot of push for women’s hockey, which is really exciting.”
Dennee is thankful and proud of the Lady Coyotes’ growth.
“Creating different teams to accommodate the different skills levels puts a tremendous amount of responsibility on our coaching staff, team managers, volunteers and families, but, it is an effort of the many and one that is embraced,” Dennee said. “I couldn’t be more appreciative or grateful for all of the support.”
— James Kelley