“We did flyers for the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend and had it in the shopping centre where the ice rink is located and engaged people around the ice rink. It’s amazing, we have now 70 kids, also one of the local school has brought in girls under the age of 14. This is the second edition and to have 70 kids is amazing,” said Patricia Mlangeni, who organized the event in South Africa’s biggest hockey province Gauteng.
The event with female players from 3 to 35-year-olds took place at the Forest Hill Ice Rink in a shopping mall in Centurion on the road from Pretoria to Johannesburg. And they looked for the right mix as they did not only invite participants from the well-off area around the rink but also from two schools from less privileged townships. “All of them can be future players for our teams,” she said. “We got all in all about 100 female players that play in our hockey league, play in several divisions and a large part of the national team players come from Gauteng.”
Also the other regions hosted events with 30 girls registered for Sunday’s session in Durban and 41 participants who came to the Port Elizabeth event.
Being in an area of the world with less places for ice hockey can be challenging though. Playing the sport tends to be expensive. “You have to buy at the ice rinks. You can’t negotiate. There are no other options. Unless you import the kits from overseas,” she said. Last year 20 girls participated of which two joined a club. That’s also why there are thoughts about changing the strategy, start with an off-ice program to learn the foundations of ice hockey and go to schools with it. “And then the kids who do very well can come for skating sessions and join the club. Because the parents get overwhelmed of the costs of the equipment.”
Ice hockey also has limited visibility at the few rinks. “People don’t see the sport because there’s mostly public skating. So we play early in the morning 5-10am, then the public comes until 5pm. So people don’t have access and don’t see ice hockey during normal hours when they are shopping around the rink,” Mlangeni said.
But that’s of course no reason to give up in the country that has 766 registered ice hockey players. On Saturday the girls got onto the ice at 8:00 and had it for 90 minutes. There were various activities to teach them the basics and since many had never skated before, the focus was on skating and easy games they were able to cope with. Later they continued with off-ice stations on an allotted parking lot.
Another focus beside skating is on the neighbourhoods the rinks are located because the rinks are far apart from each other. “It’s a logistical nightmare in getting the girls at the same place at the same time. It is the same things in the other regions. For example in Cape Town there’s just one ice rink located in a casino and for many in the province it’s not easy to get there,” she said.
Those who came, and it was many, had fun at the noisy rink. “I can see a lot of kids, they’re having fun, chasing balloons, learn to skate properly. They fall down, stand up. They get an understanding of what ice skating and ice hockey is about. Girls shouldn’t be afraid to look like a fool when they can’t skate, they should love to skate, so the learn to skate program is something we need to focus on. Let them have fun and then gradually involve them in ice hockey in different phases,” she said while looking at what’s happening on the ice where the newcomers are assisted by coaches and players.
“The impact of the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend is phenomenal as the participants have now learned a new skill, made new friends and got to learn about hockey. The association will derive a plan of an off-ice program together with the club situated at the same rink to maintain the relationship and take the opportunity further. This experience is for a lifetime and will forever be dear to the participants,” Mlangeni said.
For South African women’s ice hockey it’s a big year. In January the country will host the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B Qualification in Cape Town where the hosts will play Belgium, Hong Kong, Bulgaria and newcomer Ukraine.
“Right now we have the selection camp going on. The final team will be out soon. There’s a lot of development in terms of camps and improving in some areas. We are hosting the Women’s World Championship this year and also the men’s U18,” she said.
Working on the future of women’s hockey in South Africa, Mlangeni has a big dream. “We wish that one day we can have a proper women’s hockey league where they can participate from U10, U12,” she said. There are big gaps as some start to play very late and have to compete against boys who have been playing for a long time.
“We hope they can have their own league and can play against girls in the same age-appropriate competitions. Only when they play interprovincial games or in the national teams do the play amongst each other right now.”
But to make this possible, the Gauteng province and South Africa need to have more female players.
“At the moment we don’t have the numbers to have an own league, that’s why we like to celebrate events like that and teach people what ice hockey is about because a lot of people don’t know that we have ice hockey in South Africa.”
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