WARREN, Canada – Fiona Smith-Bell is one of the most qualified and impressive volunteers to give of her time during the IIHF’s World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend which just ended.
Smith-Bell won gold with Canada at the 1997 and 1999 IIHF Women’s World Championships, won silver at the first Olympics for women, in Nagano, in 1998, and played with the national team until Salt Lake City, where she was one of the last cuts leading to the 2002 Olympics.
“It’s so important to have volunteers in the community,” Smith-Bell enthused after a long day at the local arena. “We didn’t have female role models growing up, so I think it’s important for our generation of players to give back.”
Smith-Bell had a particularly eclectic day of women’s hockey in which she divided her charges into two groups. One session featured about 20 kids aged 4 to 10 while a later session was for women aged mid-20s to mid-50s. “The feedback by the end of the day was outstanding,” Smith-Bell continued. “Almost everyone who went on the ice asked when they could do it again.”
Warren, Manitoba is just north of Winnipeg and not far from where Smith-Bell and her family reside, in Stonewall. “Women’s hockey remains my greatest passion even though I have two boys,” she laughed.
“I always wanted to stay involved in the women’s game at the grassroots level after I retired. This is my third or fourth ESSO Fun Day (which runs in association with the IIHF weekend celebration), and I wanted to do two events, one for young girls and one for older ladies. I think today was a very positive experience. I’m a firm believer in mentoring young girls.”
Indeed, Smith-Bell believes this kind of celebration serves many purposes. It gets little girls interested in the game, but it also allows adult women to discover the game as both a player and a mentor or coach.
“You can see how girls develop and grow as people when they’re on the ice, as leaders. Of the 20 young girls we had out there today, only three or four had ever skated before. And in rural communities, the opportunities to play hockey on an all-girls team are still pretty slim. Most of them come from ringette, or play hockey with boys. It’s not the same.”
“I just got home and got an e-mail from one woman who was in her fifties and had played ringette all her life. She loved it. I got another from a mom asking is she could coach once a month. Everybody wants to play again. It’s awesome!”
Smith-Bell runs a skills scamp for boys and girls aged 8-14 during the year in Stonewall, a small town with two arenas. She also started a six-week program through ESSO several years ago and has experienced firsthand what Hockey Canada sees as a larger problem – dwindling numbers.
“In small towns it’s not just that the number of girls playing ringette is declining,” she explained. “It’s also with hockey enrolment. I want to find out why and try to generate interest again.”
After getting married to an RCMP officer, Smith-Bell travelled around, to Edam, Saskatchewan, to Ottawa, and now to Manitoba. She has been part of the mentorship program and RBC Olympians program and is enthusiastic about getting girls on ice, not necessarily to be the next great Olympic stars but to develop young girls into fine women, on ice and in life. The girls’ weekend in Warren was just another, very successful step in realizing Smith-Bell’s ambitions.
Click here for the World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend tracker.