“It’s very inspiring that as a young woman to be in a rink that’s full of other women who are strong and fast, and have the skills for my daughter, who’s so new to the sport, to be able to watch that and see that is really incredible,”
When U.S. Women’s National Team defender Lee Stecklein was growing up, she called herself “lucky to have strong female role models, and female hockey models around” her.
So, while 10U girls from metro Detroit skated with their friends and asked questions to a panel of the U.S. Women's National Team members at the Detroit Ice Party on Feb. 16 at the BELFOR Training Center in Little Caesars Arena, Stecklein said her and the rest of the team were happy to be a part of it — and to be strong role models for them.
“I know we all want to be that for the next generation,” Stecklein said. “So to be up here and have fun with them and be able to skate, dance, get a chance to talk to each other, is definitely exciting.”
This is the first time USA Hockey hosted such an event in Detroit, and collaborated with the NHL, NHLPA and Detroit Red Wings as part of a hockey growth initiative for girls in the area, said Matt Herr, the NHL’s senior director of youth hockey and industry growth.
“It’s such a unique opportunity with our women’s national team here, that we wanted to give them an opportunity not only to skate with other girls,” said Kevin Erlenbach, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of membership and father of three daughters who play hockey. “A lot of times there’s not girls-only teams, and so we have to find opportunities to be intentional with getting girls to be together and form their own culture, and realize that girls participation is our fastest growing part of membership of USA Hockey.”
The idea, Herr said, was to have “50-60 girls” through the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association invite their friends to get more girls involved with hockey.
Then, Herr said the Red Wings will “connect them to their learn-to-play programs, and try hockey through free programs through USA Hockey” before the U.S. women took on Canada at Little Caesars Arena in the 2019 Rivalry Series.
“One of the great things with USA Hockey, is to have these phenomenal women, national team members here in Little Caesars Arena,” Herr said. “It’s just been a great spark, and we hope it continues to lift the female hockey game.”
It certainly has for Ann Arbor, Michigan, native Diana Cass and her 9-year-old daughter, Zsofia, who is playing in her first-ever hockey season with the Belle Tire Hockey Club’s 10U team in Taylor, Michigan.
“It’s very inspiring that as a young woman to be in a rink that’s full of other women who are strong and fast, and have the skills for my daughter, who’s so new to the sport, to be able to watch that and see that is really incredible,” Cass said.
Cass said attending the U.S.-Canada game the next day allows Zsofia to have a connection with the team that wouldn’t happen otherwise.
“It brings a closeness for my daughter to the team,” Cass said. “She got her picture taken with No. 22 [defenseman Kacey Bellamy] today and watched her skate. So then tomorrow, to be able to come and watch the game will be really neat.”
Herr reiterated how important such connections are, because girls are the “future of our game.”
He said the national team players really understand that, since there was a time when girls in hockey were struggling to find another girls’ team to play.
“Now, we have multiple teams in Michigan, Minnesota and all over the United States,” Herr said. “Hockey has kind of accelerated. All these USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, all the national governing bodies, are really focusing on the female game itself, because they’ve seen so much growth over the years. And obviously, we want as many people as possible playing our game.”
To inspire more girls to play, Stecklein said having girls watch women from the U.S. and Canada play each other is another opportunity to watch high-level women’s hockey.
And it’s another opportunity for women from both teams to be role models.
“While we are professional hockey players, we are also role models, and we need more women in the spotlight so that young girls can see what they could become someday,” Stecklein said. “We’re trying to grow the game overall, but we also have to try and grow the girls’ game and encourage them to stay in this amazing sport, and bring their friends — and those girls might love the taste of it too.
“Definitely a very special event. To everybody who put it on, thank you. We’re excited about it.”