Manitoba’s second-biggest city had been void of a local team for girls aspiring to continue playing hockey at a high level.
Hockey Brandon is adding an under-15 girls AAA hockey team to it’s lineup starting next season.
“You can obviously tell I’m very excited about it,” assistant coach Amy Doerksen tells 680 CJOB.
“Having something here for our female athletes to feed into, to have other females to look up to, I think it’s huge.”
Playing hockey after the age of 13 in Brandon wasn’t impossible for girls up to this point, but that age typically brought a crossroads with it.
Girls graduating from the under-13 age group living in the city had to make a tough decision: try out for the Westman Wildcats, based in Hartney, Man., the Yellowhead Chiefs, based in Shoal Lake or give up the chance to play on an all-girls roster.
Both programs offered a competitive league, experienced coaches and a chance to further a hockey career — but they also included an hour-long drive for practices and games.
Doerksen knows that life well — she spent her teenage years with the former Westman Falcons program.
“The more teams we can create, the more opportunities we give girls to play at that high level.”
For the newly-minted U15 AAA Female Wheat Kings program, that also includes the chance to learn from a trio of coaches who went on to have successful collegiate careers on both sides of the border.
Doerksen’s spent the past two decades coaching hockey at various levels after three seasons with the University of Manitoba Bisons.
She’s joined by fellow assistant coach Amanda Coey, a former captain of the University of Wisconsin-Superior women’s NCAA hockey team.
Rounding out the all-female leadership is Karissa Kirkup, another former Bison who helped the team win the U Sports National Championship in 2018.
“See it, be it,” Doerksen says. “It’s all about mentorship — seeing yourself, and what you can become, in others.”
“To be able to provide these athletes with female leaders who’ve played [at the next level] is great.”
The team comes in addition to house-level programs that serve as the pipeline for the high-level teams and allow girls of all skill levels to continue to get the chance to play.
“At the end of the day, you play sport to have fun. We need to continue to invest in those grassroots programs. I’m the U7 director for Hockey Brandon, and it’s really important we continue that development.”
The team is rolling full-steam-ahead to what they hope is a normal 2021-22 hockey season, facing off against teams such as Yellowhead, Westman, Pembina Valley, and a number of Winnipeg-area squads.
It begins later this month, with a ID camp to scout out potential players for the fall.
Doerksen hopes this program leads to further expansion — and one day, the creation of a U18 AAA women’s team in Brandon.
“Hockey is beautiful,” Doerksen says. “I hope we have the chance to play until we’re 80 years old.”
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