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PWHPA Trying to Grow Girls Hockey on Many Fronts

“What do you want to do when you grow up?” 

For Liz Knox, now retired professional hockey goaltender, her answer growing up was, “I want to play on the Toronto Maple Leafs.” 

“The crazy part is, that’s probably the same answer a young girl would give today,” Knox said. “They might say the Olympics, which is good, but it’s once every four years.”

Girls hockey is one of the fastest growing amateur sports in North America and it is clear that the creation of a sustainable professional league is needed to provide current and future players an opportunity to play the game they love and earn a decent living while doing it.

The sad reality, for the most part, is that the NHL remains the only hockey league many girls know and follow.

Enter the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), which is comprised of pro players, Olympic athletes, and World Champions like Marie-Philip Poulin, Hilary Knight, and Natalie Spooner, to name a few. 

Their goal is to help create a sustainable professional women’s hockey league so that young girls have their own hockey path to follow.

Knox, who captained Team Gold at the 2019 CWHL All-Star game, explained her experience playing at Scotiabank Arena — home to the Toronto Maple Leafs — and why some women are fighting so hard . 

“You get a taste of what it’s like to be a truly professional hockey player,” said Knox, who explained that the women at the All-Star game showed up at the rink and their equipment was unpacked, snacks and hydration were provided. 

“All of the little things were taken care of so the players could focus on their game,” she said. “The players received the full NHL experience that weekend and it served to illustrate how far the gap is between men’s and women’s professional hockey.”

A few women also got a taste of NHL fandom. Kendall Coyne Schofield had the crowd buzzing with her amazing performance in the fastest skater competition, finishing less than a second slower than Connor McDavid. Truly an eye-opener for people to see these women belong on hockey’s biggest stage. It put a much-needed spotlight on women’s hockey. 

“We are fortunate to be ambassadors of this beautiful game, and it is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of players have more opportunities than we had,” said Coyne Schofield. “It’s time to stand together and work to create a viable league that will allow us to enjoy the benefits of our hard work.”

PWPHA Girls Hockey
PWPHA Girls Hockey

Many NHL clubs, such as the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, and Calgary Flames to name a few, have partnered up with the PWHPA to enhance support and sponsorship. They helped make the 2021 Secret Dream Gap Tour — a series of women’s hockey showcase events — a huge success.

The PWHPA also understands the importance of giving back to minor hockey and has made efforts to engage local girls hockey organizations in an effort to grow the women’s game even more.

“The PWHPA helps grow the grassroots programs by touring in various girls hockey cities and hosting either exhibition games or the Dream Gap Tour stops to give visibility to the women’s game and allow young girls to skate with the pros,” Knox said. “On top of that, our players are extremely active as development and skills coaches in their regions.

“We have at least three PWHPA members working as girls hockey development coaches for the NHL. In the Greater Toronto Area alone, we have a number of girls coaching regional teams.”

With the 2022 Winter Olympics on the horizon, women’s hockey will have another opportunity to showcase their talent, create new fans and continue to build the women’s game.

This time, the PWPHA is determined to keep that spark alive once those Games are over.

More On Girls Hockey

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Why Did So Many Pro Hockey Players Play Lacrosse?

It was the perfect time to ask Walter Gretzky a question I’d always wondered about. 

How important was lacrosse when it came to his son’s journey to become the NHL’s all-time leading scorer and the player most consider the greatest to ever lace up a pair of skates?

It was back in the early 2000s and the country’s most cherished hockey parent, the man who made the backyard rink mainstream, was in Calgary at the Saddledome to perform the ceremonial ball drop prior to a National Lacrosse League tilt for the hometown Roughnecks.

I was there to cover the game for the Calgary Sun and jumped at the chance to have a pre-game chat with the Great One’s dad.   

Down in the bowels of the ’Dome, we sat down on a pair of metal folding chairs and I posed the question.

“It sure helped Wayne,” he answered. “Because in lacrosse, you learn how to fake and he used those same fakes, or moves, in hockey. It sure helped him, no doubt about that.

“Knowing the different moves, dropping his shoulder and such like you have to do in lacrosse …, really helped him.”

Walter coached his son in lacrosse, as he famously did in hockey.

He fell in love with the sport, he said, just like Wayne. 

“It’s one of the oldest sports in the Canada but it’s not one of the biggest sports (in popularity),” said Walter, who passed away in March of 2021. “But it sure is a great sport, a lot of fun to watch.”

There’s no doubt the sport left an indelible impression on the Great One, who recently joined an ownership group consisting of his future son-in-law and pro golfer Dustin Johnson, Canadian basketball legend Steve Nash, and billionaire Joe Tsai to bring a National Lacrosse League franchise to Las Vegas.

Over the years, lacrosse and hockey have gone together like doughnuts and a double-double in certain regions of Canada.

Plenty of notable national sports stars took part in both games.

Way back in the day, it was fellas such as Newsy Lalonde, Jack Bionda and Lionel Conacher (Google these gents if you’re too young).

Then came Gretzky, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, Doug Gilmour, Adam Oates and Mike Gartner.

These days, it’s Steve Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Sean Monahan and John Tavares (whose namesake uncle is the all-time leader scorer in NLL history ), to name but a few.

“For me, it was always hockey in the winter, lacrosse in the summer,” said Monahan, who grew up playing lacrosse in Brampton. “The two really work together really well.

“In lacrosse you learn to protect yourself from getting hit, rolling off checks, making moves and stuff like that. Obviously you’re catching the ball and passing, so hand-eye co-ordination goes a long way.

“I think hockey and lacrosse are two sports that complement each other well.”

The similarities between the sports are front and centre: Both are played five-on-five with two goalies in nets at each end, the game taking part on a hockey arena floor or outdoor box, with all the players carrying sticks and wearing helmets.

However, some will say that box lacrosse actually has more in common with basketball than hockey. 

To a certain extent, that’s true. First off, you’re running in shoes and not skating, and offensive sets consist of picks and screens in a structure with set plays, all designed to try and produce odd-man situations on offence.  The two-man game, as it’s called, is all about picks to create 2-on-1s. On the other side of the ball, switches and slides by defensive players are an orchestrated dance meant to try and stymy the offensive attack.

At the end of the day, it’s both the similarities and differences that make it a perfect summer sport for hockey players.

There is a great focus these days on kids playing multiple sports for myriad reasons, including but not limited to: Staving off the boredom that can come with early specialization, avoiding repetitive-stress injuries by having the body do different activities, having kids face a new challenge and broaden their horizons, and becoming a better overall athlete to help them excel in their primary sport, which is often hockey here in this country.

Lacrosse checks off all the boxes.

“It’s such a great sport,” said Monahan, who currently plays for the Calgary Flames. “I played it growing up and loved it. It’s my favourite sport to watch.

“You don’t realize how much goes into the game to play it. It’s aggressive and skilled – it’s a real treat to watch.”  

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Knox Keeps Pushing To Improve Girls Hockey

Who is Liz Knox? If we were playing Jeopardy that would be the answer to the question: A role model and a source of inspiration. A person who is celebrated for their skills and actions. A person who has a profound influence on others.

Knox owns this category. A true inspiration to the game of hockey, on and off the ice. Since hanging up the pads following a successful career as a pro goaltender, she continues to leave her fingerprints all over the hockey scene. To say she has done it all is an understatement.

Knox started her journey playing with the Markham-Stouffville Hockey Association. She played house league all the way through junior with a core group of 6 to 8 girls and a handful of coaches. 

She played two years of Pee Wee with the boys, attributing much of her success with the mental side of the game. Playing on a boy’s team, chirps from the other team or parents were the norm. “Shoot from anywhere, they have a girl in net” is one of the many examples. 

But despite the adversity, Know was grateful to spend her development years playing with the boys.

“It was a good opportunity to face harder shots and play the game faster,” she said.

With the growing popularity of girls hockey in North America there are now numerous quality programs available today that Knox didn’t have when she was growing up. 

“Girls hockey has come a long way. Girls train so much harder, they’re stronger, they put more emphasis on skills, shooting, and skating,” Knox said. “There are more coaching and skill development opportunities.”

Knox continued to play hockey throughout high school. She would go on to dominate the University scene winning four OUA Championships and voted U SPORTS Women’s Hockey Player of the year in 2010. 

She is undoubtedly one of the most decorated players in Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks women’s ice hockey history, which was recognized when she was inducted into WLU’s Golden Hawk Hall of Fame in 2016.

In 2011, Knox won gold for Team Canada at the Winter Universiade and at the IIHF 12 Nations Tournament. 

Currently a probationary firefighter for the Town of Oakville, Knox played pro in the CWHL with the Brampton/Markham Thunder and became a Clarkson Cup Champion in 2018 and even played a season Down Under with the Melbourne Ice women’s hockey club of the Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League (AWIHL). 

Liz Knox Hockey Journey 2

One of Knox’s favourite experiences was serving as Captain for Team Gold in the 2019 CWHL All-Star game at Scotiabank Arena, home to the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

“I got a taste of what it’s like to be a truly professional hockey player,” Knox said. “The teams consisted of professional players, Olympians, and World Champions. There was no shortage of talent.”

The experience of being treated like an NHLer is the atmosphere Knox and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) are working hard to duplicate by focussing on building a sustainable women’s pro hockey league.

One of the league’s goals is to provide the next generation of girl hockey players something to aspire toward.

“We’re in a really good position where we have a ton of talent and a league that’s operating and doing well. The potential is there to create a truly professional future for women’s hockey,” said Knox, who served as a PWHPA founding member prior to announcing her resignation to ensure Sarah Nurse — one of a handful of black players in the PWHPA — could have a seat on the board. 

Knox remains an advisor to the PWHPA and an advocate for the next generation of girls to have a future and career in professional hockey. Her recommendation to young girls and parents is to get educated about the women’s hockey landscape and learn about existing opportunities.

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Fuelling Tips for Hockey Camps

Some of my favorite childhood summer memories took place at camp. Learning new skills, making new friends from around the country, and all day dedicated to the gym and training.  

Today, sports camps often include professional athletes, state of the art equipment, and video feedback. Unfortunately, the one area they typically haven’t advanced is nutrition for youth and teen athletes.

Although there are a few that incorporate nutrition education into their schedules, many are still providing pizza, chips, and ineffective sports drinks as “fuel.” 

Yet, while we know nutrient-poor meals and snacks won’t provide adequate energy for the afternoon sessions- or recovery for tomorrow — knowing what to pack for a long, continual day of training can be challenging.

Since digesting a full meal takes about four hours, an assortment of fueling “mini meals” will help maintain their energy and focus throughout the day … and their bodies recover for the next day.

Investing in a good cooler bag, thermos, and/or portable blender provides even more fuelling opportunities. Consider cutting fruit/sandwiches in halves or quarters for quick grab n’ go between sessions to minimize waste.

Plan for 1-2 snacks for every scheduled break as well as a variety of colors and textures to accommodate various hunger patterns. An “emergency” packaged snack (Himalayan salted popcorn, Kind or Zbar) in their bag is helpful for days when their appetite changes based on various training intensity.

Consider these convenient fuelling options for all-day camp:

  • Mini or half bagel with cream cheese
  • Banana, pineapple, berries
  • Non-dairy, non-refrigerated beverage (ex. Ripple)
  • Small sports drink (6-8 oz) – look for one without artificial colors or synthetic sugars (acesulfame potassium, sucralose… stevia can also cause stomach distress) like Body Armor
  • Chickpea or regular pasta salad with diced veggies
  • Nut butter sandwich with banana, jelly, or a drizzle of honey
  • Carrots, celery, cucumber, and or sliced red/yellow/orange bell peppers
  • Chicken or turkey wrap with lettuce and sliced avocado
  • Tortilla chips with salsa
  • Chicken and rice/farro 
  • Breakfast “cookie”
  • Fruit & spinach smoothie (portable blender or reusable water bottle with a straw) 
  • Air popped popcorn
  • Z-bar or Kate’s bar 
  • Salad with quinoa, diced veggies, and chicken
  • Pancakes or waffle with small Greek yogurt to dip
  • Pretzels and hummus

Since there’s typically only 1-2 hours between training sessions or activities, wait until the end of the day for slower digesting dairy and red meats.  

Wondering about your athlete’s individual nutritional needs? Looking for the breakfast “cookie” recipe? Reach out to me on RockPerformance.net.

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Goalie Guild: 8 Goalie Dad Mistakes

Being a hockey goaltender is probably the second hardest job in sports.

The first? Being a parent of a goalie.

It is not just the stress of watching your child perform as the last line of defense, its everything else that goes along with it.

What equipment do I buy? How much training is enough? How much is too much? How do I talk to them after a bad game? How much should I be involved with the coaching staff?

With so much to learn — especially if your family is new to the position — it is easy to make mistakes. Here are some that we have made in the past and why we realized that we may have been doing more harm than good …

Standing behind your kid when he is playing

Imagine working on a big project at your job. The company’s success rests on your shoulders and you can feel the pressure from your co-workers. Your boss can’t help you but they decide that standing directly behind you while you work is the best recipe for success. Does their presence help you do your job? Probably not. The same goes for goalie dads who stand directly behind their kid during games. Not only does the player feel even more pressure with you standing there, but you also can become a distraction as your goalie looks at you after every goal and every save instead of focussing on the next shot. They play the loneliest position on the ice and you can’t help no matter where you stand. Save the coaching until after the game and give your goalie some space.

Comparing your kid to their goalie partner

While inevitable — it will be done by you, the coaches, other parents and players — nothing good ever comes from comparing your child to their goalie partner. It is also inevitable that you will see your goalie through a different lens than everyone else. Almost every parent believes their player is better than they are in reality. It comes with the territory. But don’t let comparing the two goalies be your focus. Don’t use shot counts or goals against as a measuring stick. Those are meaningless stats as every shot, every goal and every game are different. Comparisons can lead to bitterness between goalie parents — the only other set of parents that understand what you are going through — and between the goalies themselves, especially if you vocalize your opinion on the matter. Stay positive with both goalies. Go out of your way to compliment or offer encouragement to other goalie parents on their kid’s performance. Always offer encouragement to BOTH goalies!

Not helping build a pre-game routine

Most goalies are creatures of habit. Routines can provide a calmness before a game and allow your goalie to relax and focus. They can start as early as breakfast and last right until the puck drops. So what can you do to help? First off, you know what makes your goalie tick better than anyone. Talk to your goalie and together start formulating a plan on what the goalie needs to be successful. Some goalies need to hear a specific music playlist on the way to the rink to signal its time to focus, some like to be alone before the game, some have superstitions that can’t be broken, some like to throw a ball against the wall. Most of this is psychological and often these routines build organically — “I did this before the last game and got a shutout so I am going to do it again” — but your job is to be supportive no matter how strange these routines may be. Don’t judge. Don’t be dismissive. Embrace it and you will find it actually strengths your relationship with your goalie as they see you doing everything you can to help them be successful.

Putting pads on backwards

It’s early. You were up late and have taken only a few sips of coffee in the minutes between waking your child up and getting to the rink for an early ice time. You go through the routine of getting your young goalie ready, handing them one piece of equipment at a time as you chat with the parent beside you. Your child plunks down into their pads, waiting for you to do the buckles and straps like you have done dozens of times before. Finally your goalie is ready to go and you head to the stands. Suddenly you get poked as the kids skate their warmup laps. There are no words spoken, just a smile and a finger pointed directly at your kid. Your shoulders slump as you quickly see the problem — the pads are on the wrong legs. You begin the walk of shame back to the dressing room as several other people have made note of the pads. After finally reaching your goalie, you both work feverishly to make the switch. All finished, you send them back out on the ice as you haul your embarassment back to the bleachers.

Overreacting to a bad goal

Just because you don’t stand directly behind you goalie doesn’t mean that they can’t see you. It is guaranteed that every young goalie knows EXACTLY where their parents are in the rink. That means they can see every reaction you have to a goal against and a negative response can mean a loss of confidence for your kid. Most goalie parents can sense if their goalie is going to have a bad game just by watching warmup or seeing the first goal go in. Often this gives you time to prepare for a long day. Other times a bad goal comes out of nowhere or your kid fails to make a save at a crucial situation and you can’t help but to throw your arms up or storm out of the rink. Just remember that everyone is watching you — including your goalie — as you draw attention to the mistake and make yourself look foolish in the process. 

Not asking for goalie training

You are your goalie’s advocate when it comes to practise and training. Goalies need much different instruction obviously and often their needs are ignored. There is only so much improvement that can be made making save after save in repetitive practise drills, especially if no corrections are being offered. Talk to your team’s coaching staff about taking at least 10 minutes of practice to work on goalie-specific drills, with goalie skating as a priority. Hopefully there is someone on the coaching staff or parent group who has experience as a goalie and can supervise these drills. Coaches who understand the importance of the position to the success of the team, also use money from the team budget to send their goalies to special instructors outside of the team ice time. Many minor hockey organizations also offer goalie-specific training sessions. If that isn’t happening, find out why. Work with other goalie parents to put pressure on teams and organizations to prioritize goalie training. While many kids have goalie coaches outside of the team environment, that doesn’t mean you should foot the entire bill for your goalie’s development as well as paying team fees.

Blaming Other Players

Be careful with the words you use after a tough game when talking to other parents as well as your goalie. Blaming other kid’s mistakes for goals scored on your child will only build animosity between parents as news travels fast in hockey circles. Being a goalie parent is tough enough as it is without becoming an outcast in the parent group. It is even more important not to point out mistakes of other players to your goalie. Odds are your words will make it back into the dressing room and eventually the player in question. Pointing fingers can destroy a team and further deflate the confidence of the player who made the error. They know they made a mistake and it has probably been reviewed with a coach. No need to pile on. This approach can also build negative traits in your goalie, who may now look to blame someone else on every single goal. Your goalie needs to take ownership of each goal scored on them. It is their job to stop every shot, regardless if it comes off of a teammate’s gaffe. 

Making it a Job

Look, being a goalie is hard. There is a ton of pressure. It is lonely. Team practises are exhausting and boring. It is no wonder very few goalies want to play net on the pond or on the street. Acting like a drill sergeant who demands success at all costs is not going to make you kid want to be a goalie for very long. Playing the position has to be fun. Find a goalie trainer that you kid enjoys working with even if these means trying several different ones.

Ask if your child want to do extra sessions, don’t just sign them up. Keep the mood light on game days. Stay positive after bad games by focussing on the good saves rather than the bad goals. Create your own off-ice “games” to help your goalie improve or simply play catch to help their glove hand. Making equipment buying a fun process without complaining about the price. The goal shouldn’t be to play in the NHL but rather to play hockey for life. Remember nobody wants to work forever.

Dave Ashton is the Editor in Chief of Elite Level Hockey. He is a former goalie who has watched his oldest son play the position for the past 10 years.

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