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Female hockey program coordinator in Powell River optimistic about team’s future

Players keep spirits high, despite COVID setback
HELPING OUT: 13-year-old Lily Carlos [left] has aspirations to pursue a professional career in hockey. She is also helping younger girls in Powell River Minor Hockey Association’s female program continue to develop.

For Powell River Minor Hockey Association’s female program, 2020/2021 was supposed to be the year the U11 team finally played competitively in league games. But then along came the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the first year that Powell River has ever rostered and entered an all-female hockey team into Island league play,” said Julie Venselaar, PRMHA’s female program coordinator. “So we were really looking forward to this season. It’s the first time the girls were going to travel and play competitively. And then there’s been no league play. So it’s a bit of a disappointment for us. We were ready to get going.”

Current COVID restrictions on youth sports allow for drills and training activities with enhanced safety protocols. However, games, tournaments and competitions are suspended.

Still, spirits remain high, and the future of the program, which has 35 girls registered, looks bright.

“The girls are not deterred at all, and I’m super proud of them,” said Venselaar. “We have a very strong base of young players right now, so I’m really hoping that next year we can get a team off the ground again.”

Powell River’s female hockey program began during the 2010/2011 season to provide girls playing on integrated teams an opportunity to participate in all-female practice on Wednesdays. Ten years and a global pandemic later, weekly all-female ice-time has tripled, with a cohort of players fine-tuning their skills ready for competitive play.

“There was a cohort of girls who had interest in being a girls’ team and there was enough of them and enough interest, so we put together a team this year for them to play on,” said Venselaar. “We now have two ice times, one for U9 and under and one for U11 and up, and a practice for the U11 team on Fridays.”

The Wednesday ice-time, added Venselaar, is coached by all women.

“That’s very unique when I talk to my counterparts in other associations,” she explained. “It’s really cool because many of the coaches who come out don’t have girls in the program, they are just passionate about supporting girls in hockey, and it is so great for girls to see their moms and to see women in the community out there being the hockey coaches.”

Players focus on skill development

During the pandemic, intensive training has given players an opportunity to focus on improving key skills.

“We started off with skating and we really worked on individual skating skills, and we moved into puck handling and then into shooting, and just taking those individual skills and really breaking them down and working on them,” said Venselaar. “Their skating has improved so much.”

For 11-year old Marin Carlos, who captains the U11 female team, the intensive practice regime has paid off, just as well, as she hopes one day to play in the Olympics.

“I’m definitely improving with all the skills and drills that we’ve been doing,” she said. “It’s definitely helped with my work with my skating and my shooting. I’m very excited to be playing games.”

Marin’s sister, Lily, aged 13, has helped with training the younger players since December, and said they appreciate having her as a mentor.

“I love working with younger kids and helping out,” she Lily. “It’s good to see them improving on their skating and stickhandling.”

In fact, helping out with the program has inspired Lily so much, she too has her sights set on a professional career.

“I’ve always really wanted to do stuff like that. I want to be a personal trainer for a women’s or men’s hockey team,” she explained. “I’m really thankful for all the coaches who come out with us.”

For now, while competitive games may be at least a few months away, Venselaar said the all-female ice-time gives the girls space to play together and have fun during difficult times.

“For us, as a female program, it is so important that the girls have a time when they can come together and not feel the pressure of playing with the boys, and they can laugh, and take risks and not worry about making mistakes,” she added. “They relax into this atmosphere of fun and camaraderie and development.”