There has never been a better time for girls hockey. From all the excitement that surrounds the women's Olympic teams to the very first all women's professional league, the NWHL, female hockey is coming in to its own. In youth hockey girls hockey is thriving and growing and for those in places like Massachusetts, Michigan or Minnesota, choices are simple. Girls can play high school hockey or league hockey and be with like-minded females.
But when you play in the desert, girls hockey, like rain, is pretty scarce.
So, for seven amazing seasons my goalie played on a coed team, often being the only girl on the ice. She learned to be tough, silenced the naysayers who think girls can't play hockey and bonded with a group of boys who truly just didn't know what to make of her most of the time.
She didn't like pink, abhorred anything glittery and didn't brush her hair most of the time (still doesn't) but still, she was a GIRL. And a girl who played hockey.
Despite all that confusion, friendships were forged, tears shed, and victories were had but all the while we knew at some point things would change.
It's pretty common for a girl going in to her Bantam years at fourteen or fifteen years of age to make the switch to a girls hockey team if she's been playing coed. A lot of it has to do with the dreaded biology. It's a natural fact that around that age girls stop growing and boys are just picking up speed.
Then there's the checking. No parent wants to see their 5'1 one-hundred and ten pound girl go in to a corner with a boy who stands 6'1 on his skates and outweighs her by sixty pounds. No thank you.
As a goalie, she wouldn't have faced near the physical play that any of her teammates would but that doesn't make it any less scary. Players still crash the net, fall on top of the goalie and their shots get even more wicked.
For some it becomes a safety issue.
For us she just knew that the time was right.
Coming out of her second year of Peewee, we talked about it extensively. Arizona now had a girls team she could play with and we had a pros and cons list. It wasn't an easy decision but it all came back to her saying "it's just time for me to play with the girls". She said she wanted to be seen when going to tournaments, to not be overlooked by various scouts just because of her DNA. She wanted to have that camaraderie that she just wasn't getting with the boys.
Her motivation was far more adult and big picture oriented then I ever would have expected.
So, that fall we started a new chapter in our hockey story. She hasn't really seen too much of a difference except for the locker room is a little (not that I can tell) quieter, the talk is somewhat foreign, eyebrow waxing Mom, they are talking about eyebrow waxing! There's also invitations to lunch, sleepovers and just to hang out. Which she almost never got before.
For me? I got to be the new kid on the block.
I spent the beginning of the season trying to fit in with the ones who've been around for a year and praying that they had compassion for open five holes and flukey puck bounces.
But, hey, I do know some stuff about eyebrow waxing...