HAMILTON, Canada – When your World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend features close to 20 games with more than 500 girls participating, you know you must be doing something right. But Saturday’s successful event showcasing many of the top bantam and midget players in Ontario’s third-largest city didn’t come out of nowhere.
In fact, the seeds were sown back in April 2014, when the Stoney Creek Girls Hockey Association (SCGHA) hosted the ESSO Cup in partnership with the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association and Hockey Canada. The ESSO Cup is the girls’ midget national championship, and it helped the SCGHA build new relationships, including with Cable 14.
When the SCGHA set up its own unofficial Girls Hockey Day events from 2015 to 2017, that local TV station televised two games each time. That tradition continued this year when the event took place for the first time under the global IIHF umbrella, with the Ancaster Avalanche and Hamilton Hawks taking part as well. On Tuesday, leading up to World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend, TSN Radio also did a segment spotlighting the female game.
Another highlight on Saturday was playing two games at FirstOntario Center, the home of the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. It also famously hosted the last two games of the 1987 Canada Cup final between Canada and the Soviet Union.
“It was awesome because it’s a really nice facility, an NHL-sized rink,” said Mike McDonald, a past SCGHA board member who has coordinated all four girls’ hockey days in the area. “It’s a great experience for the kids to play in this kind of facility.”
IIHF Hall of Famer Geraldine Heaney coached one of the participating teams. The legendary Canadian defender won Olympic gold in 2002 and seven Women’s Worlds golds from 1990 to 2001.
Team Canada has definitely had an impact on women’s hockey in Hamilton. McDonald said his daughter also got to know Cheryl Pounder and Becky Kellar from participating in their Strictly Girls Hockey School.
“The challenge here is always getting ice,” said McDonald. “We don’t have a challenge getting bodies because the girls’ teams continue to grow in greater Hamilton.”
Partnering with the Bulldogs has also turned out to be rewarding. Close to 1,800 girls and their families were slated to attend the OHL team’s Saturday night game, with lots of World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend festivities taking place. With the pre-game ceremonies, anthem, and between-period games featuring young girls, it’s easy to see why Steeltown is the real deal when it comes to women’s hockey.