The growth of girls’ hockey nationwide is undeniable. The opportunities that have opened up for girls to play beyond their youth years is ever expanding. USA Hockey girls’ registrations have grown by 36% over the last 10 years and 8U girls’ numbers have grown by 57%. The recently formed National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) has given young ladies a chance to play professionally. The Junior Women’s Hockey League (JWHL) is a league that mirrors some men’s junior leagues in showcasing the girls for college scouts (CYA Girls are participating in this league). Finally, on a national level there are 35 NCAA Division I, 56 NCAA Division III, and 46 ACHA Club college hockey programs available to girls who wish to play hockey after high school.
Some may say, “Well that’s nice, but what is happening in Illinois?” Let’s take a look at our state and the state of girls’ hockey right here in our own backyard.
Girls’ hockey registrations have grown by 24% over the past 6 years in Illinois with over 2,300 girls playing in the state at 19 years of age or younger with the heaviest concentration between the ages of 9-12 years old. Keep in mind this number does not include the many girls that are registered at a local rinks’ Learn-to-Skate programs that register those skaters through USA Figure Skating. What does this all mean? Things are looking bright for the future of girls’ hockey in Illinois.
So where do these girls get the opportunity to play hockey around the state? Let’s start from the beginning:
Try Hockey For Free (THFF) & Learn-to-Skate (LTS) Programming
Many local rinks, in fact all of them, offer Learn-to-Skate (LTS) programming in a variety of forms. One of the key programs available to girls to get started is the Blackhawks MinorHawks LTS program. There are 20 plus rinks in Illinois that offer a low-cost way to get your daughter on the ice. These programs are typically 6-8 weeks long and allow for the skaters to advance through different levels of proficiency. Click HERE to find the program nearest you. Additionally, rinks that are not MinorHawks partners will have some type of LTS or Learn-to-Play Hockey program.
Some of our local clubs and rinks also offer THFF Events throughout the year. These are usually run on a weekend and offer an hour or more of free skating, sometimes with gear they provide, to our newest girls to help them learn the game and create the desire to join a LTS program.
Their First Team
Once your daughter has learned the basics of skating and playing hockey, it is time to find a local Club or Rink Program that offers them a chance to join a team. We would encourage your daughter to find an association that offers all-girls teams (see the listing later in this article), but some rinks do not offer that. There are some local rinks and hockey clubs that provide in-house teams, these are teams that play against other in-house teams from that local rink or association. Again, some of them offer all-girls teams and some do not. Some associations may offer House Teams, or Tier 3. These teams may be independent or play in the Northwest Hockey League which is a House League. The cost is higher than in-house, but usually less than Travel Hockey (Tier 1 and Tier 2).
If your daughter is ready for a little higher level of competition, there are several Hockey Clubs that offer competitive girls teams at the travel level, also referred to as Tier 2. This is where you would travel to other rinks and play different associations outside of your own. This is a bit higher level of commitment and cost, but the rewards are outstanding and the amount of fun the girls have is a joy to watch. These teams may even leave the state for a regional tournament and have a chance to play for a state championship in their age bracket.
Girls’ hockey is broken into age levels as defined by USA Hockey. Girls that are 6- years old and younger are classified as 6U, 7 and 8 year-olds are 8U, 9 and 10 year-olds are 10U, 11 and 12 year-olds are 12U, 13 and 14 year-olds are 14U, 15 and 16 year-olds are 16U, and girls that are 17 thru 19 years-old are 19U. You determine your age level by the year you were born and the start of the Fall season. For instance, if your daughter turns 9 or 10 years old any time in 2016, you are a 10U.
Clubs with Tier 2 Girls Teams in 2015-16 season
10U: Sabres, Wilmette, Glenview Stars, Chicago Hawks, St. Jude Knights, Maulers
12U: Sabres, Wilmette, Glenview Stars, Chicago Hawks, St. Jude Knights, Admirals, Franklin Park Panthers, Falcons, Chicago Jets
14U: Wilmette, Glenview Stars, Vikings, Falcons, Winnetka, Chicago Jets, Chicago Bruins, Yellow Jackets, Geneva Cyclones, Bloomington Thunder
16U: Vikings, Admirals, Chicago Hawks
19U: Admirals, Sabres
The Next Level: Tier 1
Illinois has a longstanding history of developing outstanding girls’ hockey players that have advanced to every level of hockey throughout the United States. Illinois girls have represented the United States in Olympic Hockey, International Hockey Championships, NCAA Championships, and College Hockey at all levels. While this development begins way back when these young ladies are just starting out, it culminates at the highest youth level in the state, Tier 1 Hockey, commonly referred to as AAA. Illinois has 4 Tier 1 associations; they include Chicago Mission, Chicago Young Americans, Chicago Fury, and Team Illinois. These 4 programs have produced dozens of girls over the past years that have played for the United States nationally as well as playing College Hockey at all levels. This past year there were 29 Illinois girls playing Division 1 NCAA college hockey and 56 girls playing Division 3 NCAA college hockey.
Illinois’ very own Kendall Coyne won this year’s Patty Kazmaier Award as the best women’s college hockey player in the country (girls’ hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy). One of the nice things about girls’ hockey is that the opportunities to play beyond youth exist for all players, not just Tier 1. This past season, we had many girls lace up their skates for their college club teams across the country as part of the American College Hockey Association (ACHA). The ACHA provides girls not playing NCAA to still enjoy the great sport of hockey in a very competitive and skilled college club league.
The High School Experience
Illinois girls’ high school hockey is centralized in one league, the Metro Girls Hockey League. The league is a mix of teams that consist of girls from one high school and teams that are formed from a combination of schools in a geographic area (combined). By allowing schools to combine to form one team, it provides added opportunity for girls to play at the high school level. Girls are allowed to double-roster on a high school team and a club team (Tier 1, 2, or 3). This year the league had 15 girls’ high school teams playing. Additionally, Illinois forms an America’s Showcase High School Team that participates in a national tournament each year in April against other states. The tournament is typically held in Pittsburgh in April.
USA Hockey Girls Player Development
USA Hockey and its twelve districts provide player development opportunities at the affiliate, district, regional, and national level throughout the year. USA Hockey hosts three National Player Development Camps for girls ages 15, 16 and 17. The week-long experience at any of the three camps exposes participants to various ‘best practices and training strategies directly aligned with the U.S. Women’s National Team’s training, expectations, and culture so players can return home with the tools to develop their skills over the course of that season (and seasons to come). Approximately 3200 girls across the country participate in these camps.
Here in Illinois, we are part of the Central District. The District runs the player development camps each year. This year girls born in 1998 will have an open tryout April 8-10 at Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge, IL. Those girls born in 1999, 2000, and 2001 will have their open tryout at the same time and location. Forty (40) players will be selected from these two groups to attend the Central District Camp in Green Bay in June. Additionally, select players will be chosen from the Central District Camp to advance to the National Camp. Each District is given a certain number of slots for this camp. Girls selected are the “best-of-the-best” of the Central District and advance to the National Camp to compete for spots on USA Hockey’s National teams. For more information on all of these development opportunities, click HERE.
USA Hockey Girls National Championships
As was mentioned before, Illinois Girls Hockey has had tremendous success over the years. One area has been representation at the USA Hockey National Championships. Girls’ teams from Tier 1 and 2 at 14U, 16U, and 19U that win the Illinois State Hockey Championship have the opportunity to attend the National Championships each year. At Tier 1, the Chicago Mission 19U team won the National Championship last season. In the past 5 years the Mission girls have also finished second on two occasions. At 16U Tier 1 the Chicago Young Americans came in second place last year with the Mission doing it in 2011. At Tier 2 we have had several teams reach the finals, semi-finals and quarter-finals including the Sabres 12U (3rd in 2011), 14U (quarter-finalists in 2013), 19U (quarter-finals in 2014, 2015 and 2016), the Chicago Bruins 16U (quarter-finalists in 2013); 14U (2nd place in 2016), and the Glenview Stars 12U won the National Championship in 2012 to name a few.
AHAI’s goal is to build upon the momentum that has developed over the past several years. Try Hockey For Free events and Learn-to-Skate Programming are the catalyst that will help us maintain this momentum. We should all be committed to continuing to expand the base of girls’ hockey at the young age groups. And by growing the base we will be able to offer our Girls even more options and more opportunities as they progress as hockey players. Furthermore, we are fully committed to supporting and encouraging clubs and facilities that offer dedicated Girls programming thus providing our Girls a full spectrum of hockey experiences. It’s a great day for Girls Hockey in Illinois!