Start-up Small Frys program providing major boost to girls hockey in Arizona
Sometimes, you just have to go with your instinct and put a sure thing on hold.
Lyndsey Fry grew up in Chandler and wound up playing NCAA Division I hockey for Harvard University as well as for the United States in the 2014 Winter Olympics. When she graduated in 2015, she knew she could have stayed in the New England area with a great job.
Alas, life decisions are not always about monetary compensation.
Just a couple short years later and numerous hours coming up with a game plan and the Small Frys program is in full swing.
“After I graduated, I felt like had a responsibility to come back home and give back to the hockey communities here,” said Fry. “After all, youth hockey communities are what built me as a person. What I didn’t realize at the time is that I would not just be representing Arizona, but rather the whole Western side of the U.S. I have worked with girls in small hockey communities from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Portland, Oregon, to Minot, North Dakota. I feel so blessed to make a continuous impact on so many young lives and I wouldn’t trade it for the entire world.
“Now with the help of the NHL and the Arizona Coyotes, I truly believe we are on the verge of revolutionizing intro hockey programs for girls around the entire country.”
So what made 2018 the right time to launch the Small Frys?
“Matt Shott (director of amateur hockey development for the Coyotes) and I have been talking about doing something like this for a long time,” Fry said. “The timing was perfect for us to start this year. We did a pilot program last year which went well and initiated the process of submitting a grant to the NHL for a larger version of the program and after the excitement from the U.S. Women’s Team winning gold at the Olympics, the interest for a program like this when we started in April was incredibly high. The NHL, the NHLPA and the Arizona Coyotes have been incredible helping us with funding support and resources, but Matt has really been the mastermind with all things girls hockey from behind the scenes with the Coyotes.”
“It was selected to start this year due to our Industry Growth Fund Grant from the NHL being accepted this season,” added Shott. “Looking around and seeing so little opportunities for younger girls to not only play with other girls but have a comfortable place to develop properly with the best possible coaching, was a huge proponent of getting this started as soon as possible.”
Fry not only serves as the head instructor of the brand, but she’s also been fortunate enough to put her MBA to work and run things from behind the scenes from marketing to business development and everything in between.
“Our on-ice staff is also incredible,” said Fry. “We are unique because we have an all-female staff on the ice. Katie McGovern (a Scottsdale native who played NCAA D-I hockey at the University of Minnesota Duluth) is the other head instructor, and we have other women who have played at different levels of college hockey and many who are still in college today. Finally, we had a few options when we were deciding where to host the program, but we ultimately decided that Oceanside was a good central option for the program. Adam Mims and the whole Oceanside staff have been extremely accommodating and helpful to us throughout the entirety of the program.
“The long-term goal is to host Small Frys at every rink in a similar fashion as Little Howlers.”
When asked about the positives of the Small Frys during its infant stages, Fry said it’s been more than just one day or one special moment.
“I think one of the highlights for me was during a time when I actually got injured so I wasn’t able to go on the ice,” Fry said. “It was about halfway through the program and I just had to watch the girls from the bench. It was incredible to have the opportunity to watch from the outside and see the overall improvement in the girls. Everything from skating to stick handling to body contact had improved across the board and it was amazing to see the confidence that the girls had developed throughout the program. Another highlight is the relationships the girls are building with each other. When we first started, they were mostly shy and quiet. Now they are constantly laughing and smiling and some of them even refer to other players as their BFFs. That’s the most important thing this program is doing. It’s building the girls hockey community, both on and off the ice.”
Shott is equally enamored with the program.
“My favorite part is when the girls are waiting for the Zamboni to get off the ice and they all chant, ‘Let us out! Let us out! Let us out!’ over and over,” said Shott.
When it comes to tweaking the program and making it conducive to all girls, Fry said the positive feedback she has received regarding the Small Frys has been nothing short of extraordinary.
“The girls’ feedback is mostly in the form of their smiles,” said Fry. “We hear a lot from parents, though, that the girls love it and can’t wait for Small Frys each week. A few parents have even said that their daughters have started to notice that they are getting better, which is awesome to hear. The parents have been amazing as well and constantly compliment our passion for the game and the energy of our coaching staff. The parents see beyond the skills that we are teaching the kids and see the bigger picture of what we are doing. One parent was convinced his daughter hated hockey because of how timid she was on the ice with Little Howlers. The second she got out there with the girls in Small Frys, she was aggressive for the puck and smiling the whole time.
“That’s how we know that the all-girls aspect of the program is special. As far as the Arizona hockey community goes, the support is incredible. I have numerous men who have offered to help out because they are so excited about it. Sadly, we’ve had to turn them down since we are keeping it all female. One coach, Todd Collins, who coached me when I was very young, sees our program every week and always commends us on how special it is what we are doing. To have any compliment from Todd is a huge honor for anyone playing hockey in the Valley.”
And when Fry reflects on how much the girls hockey landscape in Arizona has changed since she played youth hockey there, she can’t help but beam with pride.
“When I was first starting ice hockey at six years old, there were about 10 girls in the state playing in my age range,” said Fry. “This was in the 90s and our only option at the time when getting into hockey was to play with the boys. Now, we not only have Small Frys but we have exponentially more girls playing throughout the Valley, we have two girls organizations (Shewolves and AZ Lady Coyotes) and two college hockey teams (GCU and ASU). It is incredible how far we have come, and I am just honored to be a part of it.”
— Matt Mackinder
(Aug. 28, 2018)