A new partnership between the Coquitlam Express of the BC Hockey League and the Tri-City Predators female hockey program is hoping to bridge the sport’s gender divide.
It might even pave the way to new opportunities for young girls who want to pursue their passion for playing to the sport’s highest levels.
Express general manager Tali Campbell said he’d like that to eventually include a junior hockey league for women that’s comparable to the BCHL.
“Female hockey is important,” Campbell said. “But it’s something that is behind the eight ball on everything hockey is doing.”
To help bring the two genders to the same ice surface, the Express hosted a special developmental training camp for 18 female players of all ages from various associations, including the Tri-Cities and Burnaby, over the Christmas holiday season. Another camp scheduled for the spring. Also in the works — pending public health restrictions — is a buddy system that would pair Express players with various teams in the Predators organization that is comprised of about 260 players to serve as mentors and role models.
“It helps support female hockey,” said Predators’ president, Heather Fox, of the union with the Express. “It goes a long way to ensure girls will stay in the sport.”
Fox said while most players in her organization might name an NHL player when asked about role models in hockey, giving them someone local to identify with who’s pursuing similar goals can fuel their own ambitions.
“We are all just hockey players,” she said. “Gender doesn’t matter.”
Campbell said he was in the early stages of formulating a similar partnership program in Nanaimo during his previous position with the BCHL’s Clippers, but his idea received an extra boost from Express owner Fayaz Manji, who has a daughter playing hockey.
He said the partnership will also reap benefits for his own team.
“A lot of these players have been very fortunate to see every opportunity as they grow up,” Campbell said. “Now they can see hockey through a different set of eyes.”
Fox said it’s important to show girls there are pathways for them to continue their passion for hockey, whether it’s recreationally, earning a scholarship to play at the post-secondary level, or maybe even land a spot in a women’s professional league.
“There’s a lot of talent out there, and we need those opportunities so they can explore the level they want to reach,” she said. “It gives me goosebumps to have the girls get opportunities that are similar to those the guys have.”