Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” came out long before the girls in the Harbour Breton Minor Hockey Association were born.
However, the optimism in the title phrase of that 1987 pop song certainly epitomizes how this small fishing community in southern Newfoundland, Canada approached the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend on Saturday – even while facing some technical difficulties.
“Unfortunately we had a major power outage and wind storm, and our event was cut short,” said organizer Sandra Dominie. “Despite being in total darkness, the group did not want to leave! So we will be hosting Part Two next week to complete the event.”
With a population of 1,711, Harbour Breton is home to the 1993-built, single-sheet Connaigre Arena, which served as the venue.
“We had 26 girls attend, which is great, considering that we are a small community and it is the long weekend,” said Dominie. “We had girls from kindergarten to Grade 12 in attendance. It was nice to see the older high school girls mentor the younger ones.”
Having everyone pull together is a recurring theme in Newfoundland culture, and that’s certainly true for women’s hockey. It has to be when you’re on an isolated island in the Atlantic Ocean.
First contacted by Europeans when the Vikings landed one thousand years ago, Newfoundland became Canada’s tenth and final province in 1949. It’s been officially known as Newfoundland and Labrador (a mainland region) since 2001.
Hockey fans are familiar with longtime NHLers like Carbonear’s Dan Cleary, who won the Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2008, and Bonavista’s Michael Ryder, whose 237 career NHL goals are tops among Newfies. Nearly 30 players from this province have made the big league.
Yet women’s hockey in Newfoundland was searching for its own high-profile role model – until recently.
New ground was broken at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Women’s Championship in Malmo, Sweden. Sarah Davis, a native of Paradise, became the first Newfoundland woman ever to suit up for Canada at that level. The 23-year-old forward from the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno didn’t register a point in five games, but a street in her hometown was named Sarah Davis Way in her honour.
With luck, a similar tribute lies in Harbour Breton’s future. “We would like to entice more girls into playing the game of hockey,” said Dominie. “Our association recognizes that creating a positive and fun environment for girls that teaches team work while being physically active is a winning combination.”
There are logistical challenges to overcome here, however.
“As girls enter junior and senior high school, they find it increasingly difficult to play on mixed teams in a minor hockey program,” said Dominie. “As a result, some girls do not return to hockey. The nearest hockey association is approximately 1.5 hours away and they do not have an all-girls team. We are five hours away in terms of a return trip to the nearest association with an all-girls team, which makes it difficult to play many games. Parents with girls in our association are very supportive, and they also realize that an all-girls hockey experience is invaluable to ensure that girls will continue to play hockey well into their teenage and adult years.”
It’s a cause that’s close to this mother’s heart.
“I have two daughters who love and play hockey, and I would like to ensure that all girls from our little town have the opportunity to play the game that my husband and I love,” said Dominie, who was named Harbour Breton’s Citizen of the Year for 2014.
She cites a 14-hour drive to the Newfoundland capital of St. John’s to see the 2010 Four Nations Cup with her daughter as a special memory.
“Watching my daughter watch Team Canada play was amazing!” said Dominie. “She got to see her idols like Hayley Wickenheiser and Gillian Apps up close and personal. It was a realization for her that they were real girls like her playing the game she loves too!”
Dominie is a full-time nurse who also volunteers with King Academy School’s girls’ volleyball team and assists with local gardening projects and the town’s emergency planning committee.
So coordinating this World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend event is just another highlight in a busy schedule.
“What a wonderful experience,” said Dominie. “Those involved were having a great, fun-filled experience! We got great support from our minor hockey association, town council, parents and volunteers.”
But there’s more work to be done.
“Our future hopes are to increase girls’ participation in hockey in our area and to have female teams representing our community at provincial tournaments over the next two years,” said Dominie. “We are planning female hockey camps and programs to help girls increase their skill level and confidence. We want to teach them about teamwork and being strong, confident young women.”
And that’s why this celebration of girls’ hockey just has to continue next weekend. Nothing’s gonna stop them now.