Equal Time

Girls are no longer iced out of competitive hockey.

The Xtreme began with a single team, for girls nineteen years old and under; the goal was to include as many girls as possible. Soon, however, Erickson was able to form a second team, the under-fifteen squad. That team made the nationals two years in a row.

For a while, fearful that her skills would wither playing only girls, Lacey played on both boys' and girls' teams. (At one point in her mid-teens, she was playing for four separate squads.) Eventually, however, she dropped the boys' game for good. They guys had grown too big, fast and rough. In the meantime, the girls on the Xtreme had turned out to be pretty talented. Like Crum, however, Erickson's interest in girls' hockey waned once Lacey was admitted to a Minnesota college on a hockey scholarship, and the Xtreme disappeared last year.

Team spirit: Colorado Select founder Dan Minnick and 
his daughter, Evan.
John Johnston
Team spirit: Colorado Select founder Dan Minnick and his daughter, Evan.

Dan Minnick is the latest frustrated Colorado parent to assemble a hockey league as an outlet for his daughter. "Evan picked up a bat and swung like a boy and threw like a boy right from the start," Minnick recalls. "And thank God, because I'm not much of an athlete."

Evan began skating at age four, playing in a Littleton boys' hockey league. "I liked hockey because it was different," she says. "Not many people played it. And it was fast and exciting." The arrangement worked fine -- for a while. "When they're younger, girls can play with boys," Minnick says. "But after their growth spurts, the boys get too big and strong.

"It takes a special kind of girl to be the only girl on a boys' team. With my daughter, the novelty eventually wore off."

But Evan still wanted to play. To her father, the fact that she'd once been able to but now was being edged out simply because she was a girl, seemed like a setup. "Boys' teams got my daughter interested in hockey," says Minnick. "And now that she's a bantam (a category for thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds), there's nothing for her. Most girls just end up quitting -- and for Evan, it was the thing she loved more than anything."

Minnick began toying with the idea of sending his daughter to a prep school on the East Coast just so she could play hockey with other girls. "Or," he says, "I thought we could start a program here." Given the alternative -- "I didn't want her to go away; she's my little girl" -- the headaches of starting a hockey team from scratch seemed the lesser of two evils.

In 1999-2000, Minnick founded the Colorado Select girls' traveling hockey team. Like Crum and Erickson before him, he found it a challenge convincing girls and their parents that a hockey league without boys was worth their while. Because girl players are so unusual, Minnick says, "a lot of parents think their daughter is the best in the state. Until they see the other girls play."

Others had a broader objection. "There are people who say that girls shouldn't play hockey at all," sighs Minnick. The first year, he chose seventeen girls to play on the Select's inaugural team, a fifteen-and-under squad. The team traveled to four tournaments. "We got shellacked," he remembers.

In 2000, the USA Women's national team staged a series of skills camps and demonstrations across the country. One stop was in Littleton. Girls came from all over the Front Range to watch real live women play a brand of hockey most girls had seen only on TV. The Select used the opportunity to stump for itself; parents passed out fliers touting the new girls' league.

The publicity worked. By the time the next hockey season rolled around, there were enough girls to fill three teams. One of them, the under-fifteen team, took fifth in the national tournament in Alaska. Last year the league grew to six teams.

In fact, it seems that the Denver area is finally ready to accept and support an all-girls' hockey league. At the end of last season, the Select hosted a beginner's camp called the Test Drive. Organizers prepared for sixty girls to show up. Instead, 120 did. As a result, the Select doubled in size again this year, filling twelve teams.

About the same time, another Colorado girls' hockey organization representing the rest of the state, the Mountain State Girls Hockey League, started up. Today, about 250 girls play on thirteen teams. USA Hockey also appears confident that the sport is here to stay: The national organization recently chose Denver as the site for the USA Girls National Championship Tournament. The Select will be the host team.

Barb Goodbarn couldn't be more thrilled. She smiles and cheers as she watches her nine-year-old daughter, Grace, glide around the ice among a dozen other girls. Grace, who started playing hockey with the neighborhood boys on Rollerblades and who "wakes up every morning watching ESPN," needed a place where she felt like she fit in with other girls, her mother says. "Here," Barb says, "she loves it."

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