Lady Ducks program a blueprint for success
The numbers are staggering, and even for those who’ve witnessed the growth of the Anaheim Lady Ducks program over the years, seeing them for the first time truly hammers the point home.
According to USA Hockey, participation in girls and women’s hockey programs across the country grew by 36 percent in the decade from the 2004-05 season to last year – a tremendously positive sign for the health of the sport for female players.
In the Lady Ducks organization, however, during that same time frame, participation grew by a whopping 300 percent.
The Lady Ducks had 45 players skating for their three teams in 2004-05 – their sixth season of operation – and last year had approximately 150 wearing their sweaters for nine youth teams plus a women’s squad.
This season, they have 11 teams on the ice, including 6U and 8U squads, two teams each at the 10U, 12U and 14U levels, a 16U team and two 19U teams – and that doesn’t include the Lady Ducks’ two women’s teams.
“I think it’s part of the seed that’s going to help grow girls hockey all over Southern California,” said Kathy McGarrigle, the Lady Ducks’ director and coach, whose tireless efforts since the program’s very beginning have driven its evolution to what it’s become today.
“The work we’ve done is now opening doors for more programs to offer girls hockey at many different age levels.”
Like a snowball rolling downhill, the Lady Ducks have smartly built on their success, and the foundation that took them many years to build is now supporting the program as it reaches maturity.
A staple of the program has long been its ability to produce college-level players, and in recent years a large contingent of former Lady Ducks players have returned as coaches. That alumni network has been a key factor in the continued growth and development of the program.
Lady Ducks alumni currently coaching in the program include Stephanie Yates (8U), Danielle Ramirez (14U AAA) and Danielle Ahumada (19U AA).
Yates played for the program during its first two seasons (1999-2000 and 2000-01) and went on to play four years as a standout goaltender for Utica College. She worked as an assistant coach for three seasons at Utica and one at Sacred Heart University before returning to Orange County for an office job.
She jumped at the chance to return to the Lady Ducks to teach young players the basics of the game.
“Hockey is something that never leaves you, and I missed being a part of it,” Yates said. “The Lady Ducks feel like home. I saw the opportunity to give back to a program that gave me so much and helped me fall in love with the sport.
“The 8U team is one of the most enjoyable groups I’ve worked with during my coaching career. Watching these girls develop and getting to see their faces light up when they make plays and get something right for the first time is one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced in coaching.”
Cari Coen’s time in youth hockey came just a bit too early for her to skate for the Lady Ducks, but she played for a number of other Southern California programs growing up before becoming an assistant captain at St. Cloud State University.
Knowing how well the Lady Ducks support girls hockey, she joined the program this season as the head coach of the 19U AAA team and a 16U AAA assistant.
“I’d never change anything about my youth hockey development, but the girls in the Lady Ducks program have it better than some of us did growing up in the late 80s and early 90s,” Coen said.
“The Lady Ducks are one of the strongest youth hockey programs in the nation. Starting from the top with Kathy and Caroline and Todd Marchant, these three program directors and mentors have established a great mission statement for what this club is all about.”
The program’s alumni network can only continue to grow, as the pipeline to college programs continues with the help of former players and their connections in the game.
Since their inception, the Lady Ducks have produced 90 players who have played college hockey, and this year 37 of the program’s alumni are playing NCAA hockey with six more playing for American Collegiate Hockey Association teams.
The list includes schools from Harvard University and Yale University to Trinity College, the University of Wisconsin, Penn State University, the University of Minnesota, St. Lawrence University, Boston College, Mercyhurst College, the University of Connecticut, St. Cloud State, SUNY Buffalo State, New England College, Stevenson College, Elmira College, Manhattanville College, Chatham University, Plymouth State University and more.
McGarrigle is particularly proud of the fact that six Lady Ducks alumni were captains or assistant captains for their college teams last year, and five have earned the same honor this season. And in the NCAA Division I Women’s Frozen Four last season, each team featured a player who’d skated for the Lady Ducks en route to their college program.
Already this year, the Lady Ducks have had eight players commit to collegiate programs: Kendra Farole to RPI; Alicia Nickolenko to Wesleyan University; Lillian Marchant to Lindenwood University; Tia Stoddard to Clarkson University; Kai-Lilly Karpman to Trinity; Tara Turcotte to New England College; Haylee Gannaway to McKendree University; and Tatum Coats to St. Cloud State.
Four more – Kateri McClellan, Riley Thomas, Katie Beaumier and Lexi Lee – are expected to make their college decisions soon.
The promise of a path to college and the positive life lessons learned through hockey will undoubtedly help the Lady Ducks continue to grow. While another 300 percent gain over the next decade may not be realistic, it seems certain the program will be a powerhouse for years to come.
“It’s so amazing to be a part of the Lady Ducks again and see the growth the program has gone through since the first season in 1999,” Yates said. “To think that we have teams starting at the 6U level all the way to 19U just puts a smile on my face.
“In a state where the furthest thing from people’s minds is ice, we have one of the largest and strongest programs in girls hockey. Kathy has really developed this program and continues to dedicate her time to these girls and the sport.”
– Greg Ball