The cities of Ankara, Erzurum, Istanbul and Izmit all played its part in promoting the girls’ game in Turkey during events spread out over three days.
Out of the four participating cities, Istanbul and the Silivrikapi Ice Sport Hall gathered the largest number of participants to the delight of organizer and instructor, Merve Tunali.
“We had around 150 participants. Starting from the age of five, the participants were mostly between 7-10. Little boys were asking if they could enter the ice or not, but we couldn’t let them do so during WGIH day,” said Tunali.
“The program started with a friendly game between current players of all ages from various clubs, which was then followed by the involvement of the newcomers. We played games, showed the newbies how to skate, hold the stick and play with the puck while celebrating World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend. We knew it was a success as the kids were asking if they could continue being out on the ice even after the event,” she continued.
As one of the trailblazers in the relatively brief history of women’s hockey in Istanbul, Tunali became part of the first women’s hockey team in the city in 2009. Being without an Olympic-sized ice surface in Istanbul at that time, a threadbare roster of five enthusiastic skaters and a goalie travelled a round-trip of 900 kilometres to Turkey’s capital Ankara for official games. The following years saw Istanbul’s first full-sized rink, Silivrikapi Ice Sport Hall being inaugurated, which helped to grow the number of female hockey players in Turkey’s largest city.
Tunali, who went on to represent Turkey’s women’s national team, is currently involved in coaching several clubs at all levels and also part of the coaching staff of the women’s U18 national team. Being one of the pioneers of the women’s game in Turkey, she is well accustomed to some of the prevailing preconceptions linked to the sport. These came to the fore during the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend.
“Some stereotypes here in Istanbul include that it’s a very tough sport, not for girls. However, when they saw the game and the junior players they told that they were surprised. Some also said ‘the hockey girls look normal’. So, for sure, we let them break some stereotypes about girls’ hockey, and make them meet with the sport of ice hockey and the real players,” said Tunali.
Istanbul currently has 430 registered female ice hockey players. The main age groups for players include U10, U12 and U14 in mixed teams. At U18 women’s level, there are three teams with an additional four at senior level.
“Being a 15 million mega city, Istanbul has huge potential. The number of girls’ players has increased especially during the last years. Hockey is not that familiar sport to them but now we see that it is changing. Especially around the Zeytinburnu district where the Silivrikapi Ice Sport Hall is located, many girls want to try ice skating and hockey. When Istanbul will have more ice rinks, the sport for sure will grow even faster,” she said.
With Istanbul experiencing growing pains to accommodate its numbers into the city’s only full-size ice rink, another Turkish participant city at the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend hopes to soon be back to its former glory.
The industrial city of Izmit got their women’s program off the ground in 2006. 100 km east of Istanbul, they won the inaugural Turkish women’s hockey championship, developed many national team players, before the women’s program was suddenly scrapped in 2012.
“At the moment we don’t have any female teams, but we have 20 girls aged between 8-23 years who are practicing with boys,” said Eray Atali head coach of Kocaeli GHSK, one of the organizers of the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend in Izmit.
With five teams currently in the Turkish women’s league, Atali hopes that the return of a team to Izmit will be imminent as a new generation of girls once again appears to have been hooked by the delights of hockey.
“We are finding many new girls who now wish to play ice hockey. It is growing day by day and we hope our girls will have their team soon,” Atali said.
The Turkish championship currently includes five teams from Ankara, Erzurum and Istanbul. Ankara and Erzurum also hosted events during the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend.