The inaugural Detroit Red Wings Girls Jamboree took place at the Belfor Training Center inside Little Caesars Arena, and 55 girls aged 10 and under came out to have fun and learn new hockey skills.
The state-of-the-art Wings practice facility doubles as the official home of the Little Caesars AAA Hockey Program. Women’s hockey legend Manon Rheaume runs the Little Caesars girls’ hockey program, and she was an exciting addition to the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Festivities here on 4 October.
Not only did the 47-year-old goalie backstop Canada to the gold medal at the 1992 and 1994 IIHF Women’s World Championship and silver at the 1998 Olympics, but Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL exhibition game with the Tampa Bay Lightning on 23 September 1992. She stopped seven of the nine shots she faced in the first period against the Boston Bruins.
The state of Michigan looms large in women’s hockey history. The 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Plymouth saw the host Americans capture a landmark fourth straight gold medal on Hilary Knight’s overtime goal against Canada. Defender Megan Keller, who owns a 2018 Olympic gold medal and four Women’s Worlds gold medals, hails from Farmington.
In 2018/19, Michigan ranked fourth among U.S. states in registered women’s hockey players (5,266), trailing only Minnesota (14,233), Massachusetts (11,367), and New York (6,414). The 26th state, which joined the Union in 1837, is so closely associated with this sport that Michigan and the Boys, Carrie S. Allen’s new hockey novel for young adults – endorsed by former Canadian Olympic captain Cassie Campbell-Pascall – has a main female character named (yes) Michigan.
So although the Wings haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 2008, they have a tremendous opportunity to develop both new women’s hockey players and new fans with events like the Jamboree. We caught up with organizer Katelyn McLean, a youth hockey coordinator with the Wings, afterwards.
How did your event go?
The event was awesome. We were doing three separate groups in cross-ice. When they checked in, we brought them down to the locker room. We customized each stall with their name plate, got them a Red Wings-branded jersey, and hooked them up with some Red Wings swag, like a Frans Nielsen bobblehead and a tumbler. Warrior provided a sling bag, sunglasses, and lanyards. They just had all these giveaways right away when they stepped into the locker room. Their eyes were lighting up and they were all pumped.
We got them on the ice for the welcome, and then I got to introduce Manon Rheaume to them. It was awesome. I asked them, “How many women have played in the NHL?” So many of them are so young, they were, like, “None!” And so it was cool to say, “No, there’s actually one woman who played and she’s here to greet you guys today.” And their eyes were lighting up. They were so pumped. She said a few words to them, and they got out on the ice and played for about an hour.
Manon was so great. She made a point of going around and talking to almost every girl, asking them where they’re from and when they started playing hockey and thanking them for coming. When they got to meet her and listen to her talk, that was awesome. She’s such a legend of the sport and a true ambassador. It was great to have her out there. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a new partnership.
How far has your youth hockey program come since Day One?
Our team has been working on building from the grassroots level. In 2014/15, we partnered with the NHL and NHLPA to create our Learn to Play Little Wings Program for kids 4 to 9 years old. And we started out in four rinks that year. Now we’re in about 15 rinks.
To see the growth of girls’ hockey, back when we started, the second year we wanted an all-girls location. And there was only a rink or two that had a girls’ program at their rink that these girls could filter into once they graduated from Little Wings. Now, through the years, almost every rink we partner with has a girls’ program. So they’re able to offer an 8U or a 10U or a 12U. So it’s been awesome to be able to work with all the rinks in Metro Detroit and the northern or western side of the state, and have more girls’ hockey programs for girls to play.
For one girl, it was her sixth birthday the day before. And so her mom got this as a present for her. She was just so excited the entire day. I think she thought this was her birthday party!
What’s your background in women’s hockey?
I’m originally from upper Michigan. I started playing hockey when I was five years old. I was the only girl in an all-boys league, and then I started playing with girls when I was about 13.
I went on to play college hockey for three years at Finlandia University, which is a small Division III school in Hancock, Michigan. Then I got a job with the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings. Working for the Red Wings had always been a goal, my dream job. I started working here in 2013 with youth hockey. I work with our kids club and helped develop the Little Wings program. Now I’m hoping to expand our girls’ hockey programming.
It was awesome, not just seeing the girls, but even their parents. We had people who travelled from Ohio and upper Michigan and the west side of the state. Some of them had never been down to Little Caesars Arena. So they got to see their girls skate at the practice facility.
Also, I recruited a couple of my co-workers to come out on the ice, who I knew had played in high school or back in the day. Our web site manager, I got her hooked up with a new stick and gloves and a helmet. And she came up to me after the event and said: "I forgot how much fun I have on the ice. Because of you, I’m inspired to go join a women’s hockey league. I want to get back out there and start playing again." So we’re inspiring not just our younger girls, but also our older girls to come out and play hockey for World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend. That was really special.
What are your goals for the future?
We’re hoping this is just a stepping stone into our next programming phase, so that we can provide more opportunities for girls and women to come down and play hockey, wear the Winged Wheel, make some new friends, and have some fun.