Lady Ducks experience month to remember
By Greg Ball
The youth hockey season is just getting underway, but already it’s been a memorable one for the Anaheim Lady Ducks for a number of reasons.
During the past month, the Lady Ducks have attended two fall college showcases, got an opportunity to meet with U.S. national team star Hilary Knight, and were part of a successful “Girls Play Hockey” event surrounding an Anaheim Ducks preseason game at the Honda Center.
The Lady Ducks brought 19U AAA and 17U AAA teams to the Stoney Creek University Showcase on back-to-back September weekends in Ontario, Canada, where about 75 coaches from 60-65 colleges were on hand to scout potential college players.
“It’s a huge event,” said Kathy McGarrigle, the director of the Lady Ducks. “We got a lot of great exposure for some of our kids. We’re getting some great feedback from the college coaches.”
On Oct. 3, Knight became the first female player (aside from goalies) to practice with an NHL team when she laced up her skates for a session with the Ducks, and thanks to their relationship with the pro team, the Lady Ducks were able to have about 30 players from their program in attendance to watch the two-time Olympic silver medalist in person.
McGarrigle said it was inspiring for her young players to watch Knight, a forward who plays professionally for the Boston Blades in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
“What an awesome opportunity,” McGarrigle said. “The girls were amazed at how well she did.”
After the practice at Anaheim Ice, Knight put on a clinic for the Lady Ducks, then showed off one of her Olympic medals and took questions from the players.
“She spoke about the three things that we emphasize with the Lady Ducks – do well in school, show sportsmanship, and listen to your coaches,” McGarrigle said. “We have a lot of former Lady Ducks who are coaching in our program now and who do an amazing job of mentoring, but the message really comes through even more when it’s coming from someone like Hilary.”
McGarrigle recalled how Knight spoke about growing up idolizing Cammi Granato, the Hockey Hall of Famer who captained the U.S. team to an Olympic gold medal in 1998, and realized that Knight can play a similar role for her young players seeking someone to look up to in the women’s game.
“That says a lot about how inspiring someone like her can be,” McGarrigle said.
The excitement continued for the Lady Ducks when they were part of “Girls Play Hockey Night” during the Ducks’ final preseason game Oct. 4 against the San Jose Sharks at the Honda Center. Representatives from the Lady Ducks and The Rinks (their home ice) participated in pre-game ceremonies and activities held during intermissions. It was part of a week-long campaign that ended with World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend on Oct. 12.
“We had about 50 girls from the Lady Ducks at the game that night,” McGarrigle said. “It was so incredible to see the Ducks participate, and it was really important for our girls program and for all the efforts of the hard-working people in our program to grow girls hockey over the last 10-15 years.”
The week ended with a free event that let girls of any age try playing hockey for the first time. Many of the Lady Ducks players on the 12U teams served as coaches, allowing them to mentor younger players and gain an understanding of how important it is to grow the game for girls.
“These things take a lot of work, but it’s all worth it,” McGarrigle said. “Ten years ago, we had 30 girls playing, and now we have more than 150. In five years, it would be great to see us have 200 players and to see other clubs in Southern California starting to expand their programs too. That’s definitely on my bucket list.”