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City Living: Hockey clinic draws girls to the game

Tova De Forest-Gruman probably could have outdone you when it came to knowing who’s who on the Vancouver Canucks roster last year, which is a pretty big feat for a three-year-old.

Tova De Forest-Gruman probably could have outdone you when it came to knowing who’s who on the Vancouver Canucks roster last year, which is a pretty big feat for a three-year-old.

Dad Jeremy Gruman is a big enough NHL fan to have season tickets so he took his eldest daughter to some of last year’s games. His preschooler was so fascinated with the game program handed out to fans that she insisted on the roster part — yes, the part that reads the player’s name, hometown, and game stats — repeatedly read to her as her bedtime story.

“When she was learning her numbers, she was learning them by the jersey numbers of the Canucks,” said mom Heather De Forest. “So we’d be driving along 22nd Street and she’d say, ‘it’s Daniel Sedin Street!’ We’d be driving by 14th Avenue, and she’d say, ‘it’s Alex Burrows Street!’”

But that was last year, and on Saturday De Forest-Gruman, age four and three quarters, was standing in the middle of the dressing room at Killarney Rink being outfitted with tiny hockey gear by members of the Vancouver Angels female hockey club as part of its Come Try Hockey clinic this past Saturday.

The event, which was so popular a second time-slot was added to accommodate all the skaters, happened to fall on World Girls’ Hockey Weekend where a Hockey Canada-sanctioned, day-long game that lasted more than 12 hours included 2,000 female players on 98 teams in 49 different places across the country. (While the Angels could not participate this year due to an ice time conflict, they hope to host next year.) The Vancouver Angels are formally known as the Killarney Girls Ice Hockey Association and was started in 1972 by girls who wanted to play hockey in the city but had nowhere else to play.

Even today, at least in Western Canada, hockey is a sport where most girls who start playing either have parents who actively seek out the association or have family who play. The Angels host Come Try Hockey clinics a couple times a year where gear is pooled together and girls between the ages of four to 17 are invited onto the ice to learn from the association’s coaches and players.

“It’s really nice to work with the younger kids,” said Eloise Haliburton, Angels midget C1 goalie and first-time volunteer. “I enjoy hockey so much and it’s nice that other girls have the chance. Even if they don’t end up doing it, at least they tried it.”

Presenting hockey as an option rather than an exception to girls is part of breaking down the barrier-of-entry that existed for decades. While most girls who show up for the Angels’ Try Hockey Free clinic end up playing (the join rate from March’s session was 75 per cent, according to association president James Nedila), there are still some, like Alexandra Rinas, age 9, who may not be converts. “I really want to play baseball!” she announced in the dressing room, while Angels midget rep goalie Analise Legge laced her skates.

It’s no big surprise that there was a surge in numbers for the association after the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. Those girls, currently in the peewee age group, account for one of the biggest groups of players in the organization.

“Seeing the Canadian women’s team win the gold medal on home ice was a very powerful message. Our Canadian women and girls hockey players are the best in the world,” said Nedila.“And this message starts with five and six-year-old girls coming out to try hockey.”