Growing the Sport

Women’s Adult hockey is in its infancy. It is part of the great new adult competitive sports model, the healthy lifestyle model, and the recreational sports model beginning in the late 20th century. Adults are training for 10ks, mini-triathlons; masters skiing, swimming, and rowing. Adults are hiking and biking and spending their pay checks at REI. Tennis was the sport of the 70’s, golf of the 80’s and 90’s. Running and biking came later and then there are the team sports like softball, and the chaos sports like soccer and hockey. Adult women are into healthy conscious living, yoga and pilates, Zumba, eating salmon for the Omega 3’s and wanting to live forever. Add to this three decades of Title IX for women’s sports, breaking some glass in corporate ceilings, an obesity epidemic, and you have a sport that will surely grow in the coming decades.


Hockey is a lifetime sport.

I didn’t know this when I stopped playing when I was 20 years old. I thought I would never play after college, like I’ve never played football again since high school. I took twenty years off before I resumed playing. A couple of years ago as a 47 year old I played at the USA hockey Mens over 21 no check beer league nationals in Denver with the Alaska team. We had a great time. A few older guys helping the younger guys balance their hockey skills with their time in the bars. I’m probably not unlike others my age. Some days I feel like I could play hockey until I’m 65. Some days I feel like I peaked at the age of 45. Some days I feel like I peaked 45 years ago.

The Divas have players who are 21 to let’s just say “over 60”. In the coming years the Divas will welcome to the fold the first girls who grew up in the local age group USA hockey programs – mostly those who played on co-ed teams. This is happening all over North America.

The Divas are lucky. Alaska has established women’s hockey in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla/Palmer. There are new programs in Juneau and Homer. There are some great bush programs like the Healy Coal Queens where they play in an outdoor and very cold rink. Anchorage is a women’s hockey mecca. The Anchorage Women’s Hockey League is an established women’s rec league with fabulous statewide tournaments like the annual Fools on Ice. Alaska has also produced an Olympic woman ice hockey player in Pam Dryer and many women Division I college hockey players, so there are plenty of great hockey players who grew up with the game.

Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Alaska and other states have well-established women’s recreational hockey programs. Adult rec hockey is poised to grow. We spend time in Scottsdale, AZ every winter. The Phoenix area has 4 million people and an NHL team. The Coyotes’ practice arena (The Ice Den) is like a 5 star luxury hotel for hockey – 3 rinks, bar/restaurant, wifi in the warm lobby, coffee shop and interestingly enough a women’s bling store called “Divalicious”. The programs include curling, figure skating, a nascent girls team, 42 men’s league teams, successful USA hockey comp teams and talented coaches. When Shelly asked,
‘When do your women’s league teams play?” The director answered, “We have women who play but no women’s program.”

USA Hockey has their new GOAL program – Get Out and Learn. The Homer Hockey Association used funding from GOAL to get some gear and sticks for their new Hockey 101 program in 2013. Coaches new to hockey who were either Divas or had taken my power skating classes coached brand new to hockey adults. This program successfully added 10-15 guys and 10 or so women to our adult ranks. They started in October and plan on having another session again in February. The idea of relatively new to hockey coaches coaching/mentoring rank beginners is genius.

Women’s recreational adult hockey is the biggest user group in our hockey association. If we add women’s hockey and co-ed hockey the women buy more ice than the high school team over the course of the season. There are about 250 HHA members and about 50 of them are women.

Anchorage has a strong women’s program. Surprisingly other Alaskan towns do not. One nearby town has plenty of women who play, but their program has evolved into women playing on Tier 2 men’s or co-ed teams. Who wants to play with old hairy guys? They never practice. They only play two games a week.

Nationally the figures look like this: In 1992-3 there were 10,000 girls/women registered with USA Hockey. USA Hockey doesn’t break out girls from women’s recreational hockey. In 2010-11 USA Hockey passed 65,500 female registrants out of about 550,000 total players. Again this is not women’s hockey, but girls and women combined.

In Canada in 2011 there were 532,435 registered participants (477, 872 male and 54,563 female). This includes Canadian Hockey-sponsored adult recreation programs.

In 2012 Bauer started a new initiative to grow the sport, but had no stated intentions for a strategy for adult women’s hockey, as far as I could tell. I believe their executives will find that women’s rec. hockey will grow faster in the next decade than any other category. “Bauer Hockey announced a multi-faceted, 10-year global initiative designed to increase hockey participation among those families not currently involved with the sport and to ensure the future of the game by adding 1 million additional players – on top of current participation growth projections – by 2022.”

Get out and play. Let’s grow the sport together.