The Minnesota Whitecaps have a strong history of supporting girls’ hockey through clinics, autograph sessions and more. Let’s Play Hockey file photo by Mike Thill
When the Minnesota Whitecaps inked a deal to become a member of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), not only was history made, history was validated.
Girls’ hockey in Minnesota started in small factions at area associations decades ago. Prior to that, it was mainly a sport for boys with a couple of girls mixed in here and there. And once those girls reached PeeWee or Bantam ages, they had to find another sport to play or were subjected to pick-up games at the outdoor rink. Their competitive hockey careers came to an abrupt halt.
But thanks to the dedication of many at the grassroots level, girls’ hockey took root and grew. While growth was slow to start, the game caught on and opportunities for girls to play through high school and beyond came to fruition.
For many of us, it might seem like girls’ hockey has been a mainstay for a long time, but it was only 24 years ago that the Minnesota State High School League became the first high school league in the country to sanction girls’ hockey. A year later, the first state tournament was held. At the time, there were 454 participants and only 35 teams.
Since then, we have seen the game grow and witnessed some of the best players in the world come out of our local associations. Imagine if girls’ hockey stayed dormant and we never heard of the likes of Winny Brodt, Natalie Darwitz, Jenny Potter and Krissy Wendell?
Those women and many more have become role models for younger girls who decided they might like toe drags more than toe picks. The numbers have skyrocketed. Minnesota currently leads the nation with more than 13,000 girls and women playing organized, competitive hockey. Our 8U numbers also lead the nation and have continued to grow for the past four years, thanks in large parts to the efforts of Minnesota Hockey.
And now we have a professional team playing in the top women’s hockey league in the country. The success of the NWHL is paramount to the success of the Whitecaps.
We saw last winter how entertaining the women’s game can be when we witnessed the USA Olympic squad take gold. The skating, stickhandling and shooting have improved dramatically and because there is no checking or clutching and grabbing allowed, the freewheeling play is exciting to watch. Sometimes the only way to tell if it is a male or female with the puck is by the ponytail flying in the wind.
And who can forget Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson’s dangle in the shootout victory over Canada – a move that would make Pavel Datsyuk blush?
The girls’ and women’s game has transformed dramatically over the past 30 years, and deservedly so, the Whitecaps belong in the NWHL in the State of Hockey where the game is bigger than anywhere else in the country.
Now, we can watch the next Brodt, Potter, Darwitz or Wendell emerge from their association with a chance to play for their hometown team, much like Lindsey Whalen did for the Minnesota Lynx.
Herb Brooks said it best when he told his players before they took the ice to beat the Russians in 1980 that “great moments are born from great opportunity.”
The thousands of girls who have played hockey in Minnesota have taken that opportunity to great heights.
Now a new opportunity presents itself. And more great moments are in our future.