SODERTALJE, Sweden – Priding itself on its long and successful hockey tradition, efforts are now raised for an upcoming generation of female players to feature more prominently when Sodertalje looks ahead for the future.
With 80 different languages being spoken within its municipality borders and where roughly half of its population is of foreign descent, Sodertalje, home of 92,000, is well-renowned as a melting pot where different cultures converge.
While its rich multi-cultural heritage was celebrated with various events across the city this weekend during an annual citizens day, the contribution over at Sodertalje's main ice arena, the AXA Sports Center, was dedicated to girls' hockey.
At 11:30 AM the 2015 World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend opened its doors as a new generation of girls was introduced to the delights of the sport during a full day of exciting events.
"The result has been very pleasing with altogether almost 50 girls taking part, with 20 of them being newcomers between the ages 5-10," said Tommy Fransson, head of the girls' junior development at Sodertalje Sportklubb, the club hosting the event.
In the city located 29 kilometers southwest of Sweden's capital Stockholm, girls of all ages were welcomed to a free of charge taste of hockey. With equipment readily available to borrow and with the guidance of coaching and female playing staff out on the ice it was to be a day where fun was strongly emphasized.
Starting out with becoming familiar with being out on the ice without pucks, the players were then divided into two groups, with skating being emphasized on one side and the basics of hockey being honed on the other. Various skills games on different stations followed before a practice session by the women's team wrapped it all up, in a setup which had been amended slightly following their experience from last year's event.
"We did a few mistakes last year," said Fransson. "Then we had two-three newcomers working together with our players from the girl's and women's teams. But the idea is not for it to be a practice session for our already established girls, but to get newcomers to be interested in the sport, so this year we really tried to attract new players to come here," said Fransson as recruitment was stepped up ahead of this year's World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend.
"For this year we have tried to advertise a lot more. For the girls’ team's practice last Sunday we invited a lot of younger girls who each brought along a friend. We have also had announcements during the games for our men's team and the 17 players I coach around the age of 11 also brought along posters to put up at their respective schools to push others to join, so managing to get 20 newcomers to turn up has been pretty good."
When Tommy Boustedt was named as new General Secretary of the Swedish Ice Hockey Association, one of his pronounced priorities was to increase the efforts in attracting girls and people of foreign descent into hockey. While Sweden has undoubtedly made great strides in the female game in relatively short time, Fransson admits there is still a lot of work to be done.
"Attracting boys to try hockey is very simple, but for girls we need to make a lot more efforts, but there also needs to be a change in the mindset of parents as not all of them seem to think that girls should be playing hockey," he said.
Fransson prides himself in the success his team of girls born 2004 has achieved thanks to hard graft. With around 20 players on the roster, they feature in three different championships during the regular season, including one where they square up against 11-year-old boys where his adepts 'win every other game.' But while many on his team have played together for four-five years and push each other relentlessly for continued success, Fransson hopes events such as World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend can bring in a more steady supply of new players that increase participating numbers and can see the development start from a younger age.
Having taken part in the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend saw the players and their parents being offered a treat with free entrance for the men's game between sevenfold Swedish champions Sodertalje who took on Wings HC Arlanda in front of an attendance of 2,535 as an eventful day was coming to a close with plenty of promise for the future.
"If one player taking part in the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend would continue it would count as a success. If five of them would decide to come back we would be extremely pleased. At the moment it appears that 9-10 of the 20 newcomers that arrived here today would like to return because they had so much fun," said Fransson. Click here for the World Girls' Ice Hockey Tracker