COON RAPIDS, USA – It’s not the biggest city in the United States and it doesn’t boast a bevy of Olympians or world-famous hockey players, but Coon Rapids is, in many ways, hockey country in the sense that it loves the game and makes it part of the cultural and sporting fabric of the community.
“We had about 75 girls come out today,” started Mike Hannula, program director of women’s hockey in the small Minnesota city of 60,000. “There were nothing but smiles. We had about ten new girls try hockey for the first time, so our high-school players took them to the equipment room to get them dressed. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but it gave the girls a chance to play. It’s probably too late for them to join teams this year, but hopefully they’ll be back next year.”
Participants in today’s World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend festivities, organized by the IIHF, ranged from 4 to 13 years of age, and, indeed, that is the strength of the Coon Rapids program. “We’re a smaller organization than the boys, for sure,” Hannula continued, “but we have six U8 teams, two U10 teams, and one U12 team. This year is the first time we haven’t had a U14 team.”
Players in all age groups had at least 20 minutes of ice time and were directed by high-school coaches. They took part in various skating and shooting drills at the new Coon Rapids Ice Centre, a complex which has a year-old indoor rink as well as an outdoor rink right beside it. Girls’ teams also practice in nearby Blaine, Minnesota as well.
“We work hard to recruit girls,” Hannula explained. “We give them the chance to skate ten times a year for only $25, and this has been a successful program for us. Today’s initiative run by USA Hockey and the IIHF can only help. USA Hockey provided us with pink water bottles, and I believe this kind of event will be beneficial in growing the game, as they say.”
Coon Rapids also has drawn on some recent success. The team went to the state finals a couple of years ago, and one member from that team, Rachel Bona, is now a sophomore at the University of Minnesota playing alongside some world-class players including Amanda Kessel, Hannah Brandt, Megan Bozek, and Finnish stars Noora Raty and Mira Jalosuo. This kind of progress can only have a positive trickle-down effect on the community in the coming years.
“We had pizza and cake and face painting, and everyone had a great day,” Hannula added. “It was a big success.”
Click here for the World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend tracker.