There are some female hockey players from Newfoundland and Labrador who get to play competitively once they graduate from high school. There are those with teams in the Atlantic Universities Conference in the Maritimes and a scattered few playing with NCAA schools in the United States.
But those over 20 who remain in this province have had to make do with rec leagues or pick-up games.
Debbie Bouzane is out to change that.
The Gander native is chair of Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador’s Female Council established earlier this year and one of her first efforts is an ambitious one — establishment of a local junior hockey league for women. And the determination is to have it happen quickly; plans are for the league get underway this fall.
Currently, female hockey in the province falls pretty much into minor/age-group categories.,
“Right now in female, we have under-12, under-15 and under-20, but older girls when they go on to university, for example, they really don’t have a place to play,” said Bouzane.
As she envisions it, the junior division would be part of an overall realignment that would see female hockey divided into age groups more in line with those for male players — novice, squirt, peewee, bantam and midget (16-18).
There are some such divisions for female players now, but only at AAA level for association’s with those particular teams.
"Right now, we have under-12, under-15 and under-20, but older girls when they go on to university, for example, they really don’t have a place to play,.”
With female hockey registration having more than doubled in the last decade and more than 2,000 female players registered in this province, re-organization is required.
“We eventually hope to transition where we have a (regular) midget age and then this junior league that players can graduate into,” said Bouzane.
The initial plan is for a four-team circuit — the Eastern Women’s Junior Hockey League — based out of Feildian Gardens in St. John’s. With half of the province’s population in and around metro St. John’s and so many players of the targeted ages going to Memorial University or other post-secondary institutions in metro, it was the logical place to begin.
“I was doing a coaching course in St. John’s in February and there were some girls in their early 20s there and I asked them if we had a junior league whether they think it would go overall, and they were very confident that it could be a success,” said Bouzane.
“That’s where this kind of started.”
All league games will be 7- 11 p.m. Fridays at Feildians Gardens. Each team will play one game a week. Ideally, said Bouzane, there would also be additional practice ice time each week.
The ice has been secured. Now, it’s a matter of finding players to skate on it.
There will be an open entry draft for players between the birth years of 2001 (17) and 1996 (22).
Players are being asked to fill out draft applications by Sept. 23, with the actual draft to occur sometime after Oct. 1. There will be a player fee (amount to be determined) to participate in this league.
In addition to players, the search is on for head coaches, assistant coaches, trainers and managers, as well as committee members (secretary, league manager and director of public relations). Included in the duties of the committee members will be liaison with the teams, assistance with league fundraising, scheduling of games and officials and the overall running of the league play.
All applications are available through Hockey NL’s website (hockeynl.ca).
Bouzane agreed she would eventually like to see the junior league expand beyond four 19 or 20-player teams, but says it’s more important to concentrate on successful establishment of the circuit and she credits the St. John’s Junior Hockey League and Hockey NL’s Junior Council for help in that regard.
But when asked whether this could someday lead to a senior women’s league in the province, one could almost hear Bouzane’s smile over the phone.
“That would be wonderful. It’s something else we can shoot for,” she said.