Attached to the Prudential Center, the official practice facility of the New Jersey Devils hosted close to 80 girls between the ages of 6 and 17 for a World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend event. The celebration is a fixture on the NHL club’s calendar. And the enthusiastic response mirrors a growing trend worldwide – among players and spectators alike.
A just-released study by Nielsen Sports indicates that 84 percent of sports fans are interested in women’s sports. The study surveyed 1,000 people in each of the following eight countries: Australia, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
So while the Devils were defeating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 in their season opener in Gothenburg, Sweden, the women’s game was continuing to sprout in the Garden State. The NWHL’s Metropolitan Riveters, who won the 2018 Isobel Cup, made their presence felt at the #WGIHW event too.
We caught up afterwards with Kevin Fox, senior manager of grassroots hockey with the Devils.
How did everything go on Saturday?
It was awesome. We had a lot of fun out there.
We kicked off the day at Prudential Center with a speaking panel on girls’ hockey with Kristen Wright, who’s USA Hockey’s manager of player development for girls’ hockey. We worked in conjunction with our district, the Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association.
What did that panel focus on?
We talked about three key topics. First, there was girls’ hockey development, using the American Development Model (ADM) through USA Hockey. Second, we talked a little bit about ways for girls to stay involved in our game outside just playing, whether it’s coaching, refereeing, or volunteering and giving back their time. Danielle Buggé, who heads up girls’ officiating in our district, talked about ways girls could get involved in refereeing, which was pretty interesting. Third, we had a section on NCAA and ACHA hockey for girls that might be looking into that level. We had Devils alumni Bruce Driver, as well as Erika Lawler, who is a former Olympian, two-time World Champion, and current Metropolitan Riveter, and a three-time NCAA champion with Wisconsin. We also had Kelly Nash, a two-time NCAA champion who currently plays for the Riveters and serves as an assistant coach with Princeton.
It was unbelievable to hear everything they said, how they grew up and played at the elite level, how they got there. The emphasis was on always having fun, enjoying themselves, working hard and staying motivated. Then we opened it up to the floor. They had so many questions and comments.
How about on the ice?
In conjunction with USA Hockey, we did one large ADM-style session. We did six stations where all the girls rotated, and it was awesome. We had all the coaches helping out. We had stations working on everything from the fundamentals to one-on-one drills for every age group. Kristen Wright was out there leading the charge on that. We have a great group photo. All the girls received a little gift bag. We’re looking forward to another great year of girls’ hockey here in New Jersey.
What else did the Riveters contribute?
The Riveters are opening up their NWHL season in Minnesota today, but Riveters captain Shelley Picard and a few of the girls recorded a video message, saying: “Sorry we couldn’t be there, but we wish you the best of luck today and throughout the season.” There was also a little shout-out to Kristin Wright for helping out today. So that was a cool little piece we did. We opened up the day with that video so the girls could see the Riveters really care about them. We all care about them!
Is there a moment that stands out to you from today?
I had a girl come up to me by the bench. She said: ‘Thank you for putting on this event. I love coming to these events where I get to play with other girls that I don’t really know, because I get to see their strengths and my weaknesses.’ That was really deep, I thought.
She was from Hockey in New Jersey, which is our diversity ice hockey program. It’s a free program with about 1,000 participants across four communities, including Newark, Jersey City, Englewood, and Montclair.
We had Tier 1 and Tier 2. We had some really great players out there. She was hanging out with them in the mix. We had a logo on the back of our jerseys that says: ‘Hockey Is For Everyone.’ To me, that was a perfect example of that. She was a little intimidated to play with girls like that, but she hung in there and played. She took advantage of the opportunity to play against girls that she might not be used to playing against.
Click here to access the #WGIHW tracker with more stories from the World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend.