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SURREY — It was, from the start, a furious battle. The enemy from the mountainous North Shore, fittingly called the Avalanche, wasn’t about to taint its league-leading record with a sloppy loss, and the upstart Falcons from Surrey had a point to prove.
Going into the third period last Saturday (Jan. 23) at North Surrey Arena, the outcome remained perilously in doubt. But the Falcons ramped it up, the Avalanche faded, and two quick goals at the halfway mark sent the crowd – and the Falcons players – into a tizzy. Final score: 5-3 for the home team.
Looking back, neither coach could be discouraged. Kelly Leroux, bench boss of the Falcons’ Atom C1 squad, said it was a team effort. “We had no superstars today, but we passed the puck the way we should and played a better positional game.”
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Indeed, looking at it objectively, the passing was amazing. The positional play was stunning, the skating and the knowledge of the game phenomenal.
These were, after all, no ordinary hockey players. They were eight to 10 years old, and every single one of them was female.
Girls’ hockey has come a long way, and the Surrey Falcons, a group of 13 local teams comprised of players five to 20 years of age, are proof not only of the growing interest level, but the skill level too; you need merely watch a game to see that.
PICTURED: Coach Kelly Leroux, centre Sahira Khan (foreground) and other players with the Surrey Falcons Atom C1 team celebrate a goal in a 5-3 win Saturday (Jan. 23) at North Surrey Arena. Photo by Gord Goble/Surrey Now
And next week, they’re holding a tournament. It’s the 20th anniversary of the tournament, so it’s not exactly new. But the number of teams and players wanting to participate certainly is.
For a little background, I talked with Falcons president Paul Smith. Smith, a player of note himself who made it all the way to Junior A in his day, explained the Falcons were founded in 1994 as a female-only association.
It was an era, he said, when girls wanting to play hockey were often compelled to do so on boys’ teams.
“It can be a hard time when one girl is playing with a bunch of boys. It impacts the level of fun on the ice and it makes for difficult dressing-room arrangements. When girls play with girls they get to touch the puck more often and they all change together.
“But even when we started,” he continued, “numbers were an issue and we had only older divisions.”
Today, however, the number of players has reached 200.
“Even six years ago,” Smith says, “we had just one team with players under the age of 10. Today we have three.”
Like Smith, Carla Reid volunteers her time and really seems to love it. Back for her third year as head of the organizing committee for the annual three-day hockey showcase – dubbed the Superheart Tournament – Reid says it’ll be a who’s-who of regional female hockey.
According to Reid, the tourney will feature some 43 teams and 680 players. And these aren’t just local squads, either. Fully 19 of them hail from outside the Lower Mainland, including such locales as San Jose, Yellowknife, Anchorage and Orangeville, Ontario. Even more impressively, another 25 teams are on the waiting list.
The first puck will drop at 7 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 5 at Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex, on Fraser Highway in Fleetwood, and the final games will end the following Sunday evening.
Reid says it’s all great fun, but also necessary.
“It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year. It’s essential to keep our costs down,” she said.
Apart from watching some of the best under-16 girls hockey anywhere, spectators can expect a host of other pro-level trappings. Mobile trucks from Booster Juice, Japadog and Wings will be stationed outside, and both Boston Pizza and Tim Hortons will offer up freebie goodies. Prizes (including autographed Canucks sticks) are raffled off every day, and live updates will be broadcast via the Falcons’ website (Surreyfalcons.ca) and also at Twitter.com/surrey_falcons.
After the epic victory last Saturday, the players on the Falcons’ Atom C1 team cheered and celebrated and hugged one another, and left little doubt how much the sport means to them.
Nya Bakker, a centre who’s shifted to left wing while she convalesces a leg injury, didn’t mince around. One day she wants to play for Team Canada, a sentiment echoed by several of her peers.
“My favourite part of hockey is that you have a team that supports you,” she said.
Nine-year-old goaltender Bella Grewal, a mere sprite of a girl who looms much larger in net, says she watches older girls play and “wants to be just like them and keep playing hockey.”
Hayley Lee, like many of the players, credits her dad for introducing her to the game. She likes badminton, too, but says “hockey is fun because of my teammates. They help me score goals and I help them too.”
Coach Leroux, a veteran of NCAA and American League battles, is a huge proponent of the all-female format.
“I think there’s a misconception that girls will develop better when playing with boys,” she reasoned. “It may have been true 15 years ago, but not now. The level of coaching we have in our association, and other associations, is just great. We even bring in professional coaches for skill development.”
Next week, the Falcons’ Atom C1 squad will hit the ice at the Superhearts Tournament, wanting to win but loving the experience no matter what the outcome. And that’s what happens when you have a team captain, Kiryn Kajla, whose duties are “leading the team, and making sure that they’re having fun on the ice.”