Girls join Canada-wide hockey game

Jill Belanger, left, and Rachel Harder get ready to step onto the ice for the Hockey Canada girls' long-game in Hay River Oct. 12. -- Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo

Jill Belanger, left, and Rachel Harder get ready to step onto the ice for the Hockey Canada girls’ long-game in Hay River Oct. 12.
— Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo

Two teams, made up of female hockey players, took to the ice on Oct. 12 in Hay River for a unique cross-country event.
They were joined by 44 other teams across the country in one ongoing match, starting at 7 a.m. local time in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, and working its way to Parksville, B.C., by the end of the day.
“It feels great,” said nine-year-old Chandelle Leonard, before stepping out onto the ice. “It feels like I’m part of something big.”
Hockey Canada organized the Girls’ Long Game on Oct. 12 as part of World Girls’ Hockey Weekend, an event intended to encourage women and girls to lace up their skates and shoot some pucks.
The idea of the game was to have continuous play, with a continuous score, all day and all the way across Canada. In the North, Yellowknife, Inuvik and Iqaluit also participated with Hay River. While each town was given an age group to represent, Hay River and other smaller communities had to gather together players from different levels to make full teams.
However, Dana Cross, the Hay River game’s organizer, didn’t see that as a disadvantage.
“It’s great that the younger girls get to play with the older ones and even some of the players from the women’s hockey league here in town,” he told The Hub. “We were supposed to play a peewee game, but the reality for us and a lot of the smaller communities is that there are only six or eight female peewee players, sometimes less.”
Instead, Cross and other organizers decided to open up the game to all ages, from novice all the way up to adults.
“My daughter is a goaltender and she really wanted to play,” said Cross. “I saw the event publicized a bit through Hockey Canada and I wanted her to play in it, but someone had to step up to co-ordinate, so I did.”
Cross said he has observed games between only female players, and noticed the girls appear to have more fun than in games in which they are playing both with and against boys.
“They seem more relaxed, like they’re just out to have a good time,” he said, adding that girls are often a lot more supportive of each other than their male counterparts.
Cross noted that once he was in a dressing room and kept hearing a clamour of cheers and shouts from the ice surface and stands. Thinking there must be about 100 people out there to be making all that noise, he stepped out to see about 20 women cheering each other on from both the ice and the stands.
Jill Belanger, now 18, has been playing hockey since she was nine and said that, while she would find it difficult to play against eight-year-olds for fear of bumping into them too hard, overall she was glad to be playing in the long game.
“It’s very exciting,” she said. “It’s nice to see girls of all ages coming out and playing all together.”

— Sarah Ladik