GURL Hockey Designed to Get Young Illinois Girls to Love the Game

Girls United Recreational Level hockey is for new players age 4-10

By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI

The number of girls playing hockey in Illinois is at an all-time high.

However, when Tracy Cimba was conducting extensive market research on the number of registered girls’ hockey players compared to nearby Wisconsin and Michigan, one figure looked glaringly out of place. Illinois has a hard time getting girls ages 6-8 involved with the sport. But by the time they hit 10 years old, the numbers significantly spiked.

One solution to attract girls in the 6-8 age group: start a girls-only program.

“Right now in the state, when they’re little the only option they have is the learn-to-play hockey or if they sign up with their local youth ADM program, the ratio of boys to girls on the ice is 10-to-1,” Cimba said. “So, if there are two girls on the ice for some kind of learn-to-skate, there are 20 boys. While that’s good and they’re learning how to play hockey, they’re not getting a unique girls experience. We thought that because there isn’t an option like that in the market, we could create a statewide, AHAI-sanctioned kind of program. We could run through AHAI a girls-only intro-to-hockey — providing them a learn-to-play, learn-to-skate program, but also providing camaraderie of a girls experience with on-ice games, a social afterward to really get them loving the game.”

AHAI Director Chuck Smith believes one of the easiest and smartest ways to appeal to girls is to get them to play with other girls in a dedicated girls-only environment at an early age.

“Girls [teams in Illinois] — especially at the high end, at the Tier I level — compete at the very highest levels nationally. Teams win nationals, teams finish in the top three, very competitive at the top level,” Smith said. “From a certain sense, everything is really good. However, we believe the numbers could be better. It’s not broken, there’s nothing being done incorrectly. We believe based on the size of the state and frankly how the girls at the highest levels perform that the base could be larger. We could have more girls involved.”

Cimba teamed up with Smith to present an idea of starting a program. Everything went well, and Girls United Recreational Level (GURL) Hockey was formed. It’s designed for girls ages 4-10.

“It was very well received and people saw that with AHAI behind it that this is worth a try to contract some ice and bring girls from regions together,” Cimba said. “Once they are able and ready to move on to more competitive Tier II hockey, we can direct them to their closest community Tier II program.”

“Our hope is that by doing this we can recruit or bring in more girls and then just as importantly we can retain more girls,” said Smith, who is the co-chairperson with Cimba for AHAI’s intro to girls’ hockey programming.

Girls United, which is offered to players who aren’t currently enrolled in a USA Hockey affiliate program, will have its first sessions starting in January.

There are two options to sign up for: No. 1, #funGURL, which is designed for girls ages 4-8 who are new to skating. They are one-hour per week sessions with the first 40 minutes dedicated to on-ice activities and the remaining time off ice; No. 2, #superGURL, which is for girls ages 6-10 who are stick-ready to play the game. Sessions last one-and-a-half hours, with the first 60 minutes filled with on-ice skills and mini games and competitions and the final half hour for off-ice activities.

“We’re going with a superhero theme, which I think is really important for empowering young women and young girls to get out and be with other women as well,” Cimba said.

After the eighth and final session for both #funGURL and #superGURL, the girls will come together from all the regional sessions for a #GURLpower Jamboree in March. There will be on-ice 3-on-3 mini games and plenty of fun with a BBQ and ice cream social.

During the regular weekly sessions, it’s about learning to play hockey in a rec level environment. It’s not all about winning, stressed Cimba.

“Team A is not coming to the rink to play Team B and the parents are on the glass cheering,” Cimba said. “It’s more the ADM [American Development Model] where a whole bunch of girls are on the ice. Maybe the last 20 minutes of a session the instructors do relay races or do little, mini 3-on-3’s and no girls are on the same team per week. It’s just a whole bunch of girls playing on the ice at once.”

Part of the appeal for the program is the eight sessions cost only $49. Plus, players can use equipment that is provided for free.

“That’s another barrier we tried to take down — the cost of entry to try to get the girls to love the game,” Cimba said.

A major key in getting Girls United started was having cooperation from hockey organizations around the state. The clubs were asked to work together to bring resources to the table as far as ice and coaches.

The #funGURL and #superGURL sessions will be held at two regional locations in the Chicago suburbs: south at Oak Lawn Ice Arena and west at Carol Stream Ice Arena. Cimba is hoping to add a third regional location next fall in the north suburbs.

Any parents who are interested in signing up their girls can head to There are additional details on the website as well as registration information. Interested parents can also follow Girls United Hockey on both Instagram and Facebook.

Cimba has always been a believer in grassroots hockey and hopes Girls United can make an impact on girls’ hockey throughout the state.

“We’re really excited,” Cimba said. “Everyone we’ve talked to kind of gets it. And people that we’ve talked to that have little daughters, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh. This would be something my daughter would love.’ We’re hopeful. Our fingers are crossed. It’s worth a try.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.


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