Reflections on Shewolves, girls hockey history in the Arizona desert
Growing up, I longed to play hockey.
There weren’t options for girls back then and my dad wouldn’t let me play with the boys.
I went to the library in third grade and checked out every book about hockey and learned all the rules and how to take stats. My brother played hockey and I took his team’s stats and when I become a young adult was a statistician for pro leagues in the United States and in Europe.
When I was 23, I moved to Scottsdale and noticed there still weren’t any options for girls. I saw a few girls here and there and noted that they seemed a bit left out of the teams.
One night I was praying and felt God was telling me to start a girls program in Arizona.
I called every rink in the Valley and at that time, they all told me they were not interested – all except Justin Maloof at the Ice Den. He gave me a big “yes.” He hired me as the girls hockey coordinator and the Shewolves were born.
I called a lot of families, hired coaches, did marketing and built the program with so much positive support from Justin. My husband, who had played for the Arizona Sundogs prior, headed up a skills program. The program grew and we had a few Shewolves teams. I was also working for the Coyotes at the time and our teams got to play during the intermission of a Coyotes game.
We had amazing parents of girls who longed for a girls program and were supportive. During our first two years of the skills program, we had a lot of amazing coaches, most of whom were former pro or college coaches, come volunteer their time to teach the girls.
We became a big family.
Once we had teams, I joined Scott Bryce and Jeff Owens who were kind and passionate about hockey. We weren’t the most competitive teams, but it was a blast. Team bonding, integrity and character were important for me to instill into the girls.
Ten years later, I can see that that part was a success. Many of the girls faced internal or familial hardships but their Shewolves family gave them an outlet to let off steam, have fun, play hard together, and be supported. Everything that was done, was done for the girls, keeping in mind not only what was going on with each personally, but what it means for girls to play their sport with other girls.
One of the girls, Ava Kirchner, is the daughter of September 11 first responder, Ronnie Kirchner. Ronnie rescued and protected people on and after September 11 and was on the cleanup crew for six months afterward. Sadly, from all the exposure to radiation on Ground Zero and trauma from the experience, he is now suffering from dementia at a young age. Before his dementia symptoms came on and quickly advanced, you could see him at the rink cheering on his daughter and the Shewolves.
There was a good handful of girls who were there from Day 1 and stayed in the program the entire time. I had moved away a few years in, but the program remained, driven by these girls and their families. I kept in touch with the original crew and tried my best to pour into the girls over the years. My kids were practically born on the bench when I was coaching the Shewolves teams. The moms took turns holding my babies while I was coaching their girls.
Now, after recently moving back to Scottsdale, the Shewolves girls and their families are the ones pouring into my own kids.
I have received many emails from the parents and girls over the years telling me how much the program has shaped their lives in various ways. Here is what a few of the original girls had to say about the program, how it impacted their lives and what they are up to now:
“Being the only girls hockey team at the time, we faced a lot of challenges and had to fight for ice time and other opportunities. The Shewolves empowered me to fight for equal opportunities. I was playing competitive soccer at the same time and the combination of these two sports helped me receive a scholarship as I am now playing Division I soccer for the University of North Dakota.” – Maddie Nash
“The dynamic of the team was so incredible that even after a loss, our spirits remained high. I’ll never forget how we felt after winning our first game, and how for the first time the boys on the other team had nothing to say. I remember how excited my dad was on the car ride home because for the first time, the girls team was victorious. I do believe that being the only girls team in our league greatly contributed to our desire to listen to our coaches and work as a team.” – Ava Kirchner, now studying as an English major at Stony Brook University in her native New York
“It is remarkable to see what women’s hockey has grown to in Arizona and how the original Shewolves organization was such a contributing factor to that. Some of my favorite memories from the experience would be the familial element we shared. Nowadays, you can find me selling top Scottsdale real estate in a pair of high heels instead of Bauer skates. It’s been exciting to work with other former hockey players and help them find their dream home, in close proximity to an ice rink, of course” – Reagan Briggs
Ali Owens is studying at Arizona State University. Ali captained our team on and off the ice with a positive attitude and an insane work ethic. Her dad (Jeff Owens) helped coach the Shewolves for many seasons. Her brother Will not only worked as a referee, but played at a competitive level and has been a local legend at Oceanside and a part of ASU’s team as well. Ali’s mom Wendy was one of the parents who supported and fought for the Shewolves from the beginning.
Taylar Langkow is now working in Canada. Morgan Briggs, Reagan’s twin, is a loan officer. Sheridan Gloyd plays for Arizona State University.
The program wouldn’t have made it without Justin Maloof allowing me to come in and build it or without the amazing original parents such as Jack and Susan Briggs, Tyson and Kathy Nash and Mike Chase.
The Shewolves family paved the way, putting our own stamp on the landscape for girls hockey in the desert.
— Stephani Bernier
(March 18, 2021)