Thanks to the success of an Under-14 team this year, opportunities for girls hockey players are growing on the Kenai Peninsula.
The Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association has two all-girls hockey teams in the league now, all thanks to the coaches and players willing to commit the time and effort to do it.
Starting last fall, an Under-14 team was formed. The team was composed mostly of girls who had minimal experience in the sport of hockey.
“We had tryouts in August, and a lot of games,” Scott Sheldon, one of the coaches, said. “I’m proud of the players because they’ve worked so hard.”
At the start of the season, during tryouts, Sheldon — along with Ted Barton, Dohn Cho, Ward Bishop and Theresa Morse — had nine girls who were actually in the Under-12 age class, while the others were true U14s.
Barton described in an email the level of preparedness the team experienced.
“Out of the entire group, only one had ever played on a tier II team. The rest had played tier III and tier IV, and one true U14 had never played hockey before. She was a figure skater,” he wrote.
With such a ragtag group of players, Barton mentioned how it was difficult for the players to commit to a practice schedule.
“I will never forget approaching one of our neophyte comp hockey players at one of the early practices and suggesting to her that she be a bit more aggressive in trying to take control of the puck,” he wrote. “Her answer was, ‘Coach, that just isn’t in my nature!’ I thought to myself, ‘OMG!’ That same player is now one of the more aggressive players on the team and who is developing a wicked shot.
“And just like her, all of the girls have improved by leaps and bounds not only in their skills, but in their understanding of how the game is played.”
Since the upstart group came together, however, Sheldon said it is rare that players miss a practice, game or a dryland session.
Sheldon and Barton have both come up through the KPHA as well — Barton has served as president. Sheldon said he played in the 1970s when he was a kid, and the KPHA was very new.
In addition, Sheldon coached at Soldotna High School over 10 years ago, so the experience he brings to the current team can be attributed to its success.
The Under-14 girls team made the trip up to Fairbanks in late February, where the squad played at the Girls Pacific District Regional Tournament, and they faced two teams from California: the Anaheim Lady Ducks and the Lady Reign from Riverside.
Barton mentioned that the Ducks are one of the premier girls hockey programs on the West Coast. The first game played resulted in a 3-1 win for KPHA.
“It was borderline USA vs. Russia‚“ Sheldon said, referring to the 1980 Olympic gold-medal game between the former Soviet Union and the United States.
“The first two games we won 1-0 and 3-1,” he said. “The other team we played against, we lost to, but those were very tense, close games, and I’m proud of the way these girls performed.”
Barton says the stronger teams wore down the players in the third and final periods of each game.
With the success of the Under-14 team, Sheldon said the decision was made to go ahead and start up an Under-10 team, which would give the younger players a chance to compete in a better environment. The success of the older girls has only inspired more younger girls to try out for the Under-10 team.
Sheldon would like to see a combined high school team start up, one which would compete against the bigger Anchorage-area schools.
“The Anchorage schools often combine two schools to hold games, such as Chugiak-Eagle River, or Service-Dimond,” Sheldon said. “If we combined Kenai and Soldotna, we could have a competitive team, I think.”
Although it is only an idea for the time being, Sheldon says the hope is that the team would begin play at the start of the 2013-2014 season.